When Shannon Wright began carving out her direction as a solo artist on debut Flightsafety, her music evoked a certain haunted sadness, yet remained accessible, falling somewhere between the melancholy folk-pop of Kristin Hersh and the ragged punk-blues of P.J. Harvey. Over the course of the next six years, however, Wright’s pendulum swung increasingly toward the abrasive and the bizarre, culminating in the tortured, harsh Over the Sun, a record with hardly anything resembling a single and very few moments in which the Georgia singer-songwriter allowed any light to bathe her minor key murk. In the three years since that harrowing tornado of an album, Wright has collaborated with composer Yann Tiersen, and re-discovered her playful side, which comes out impishly and beautifully on fifth album Let in the Light.
On Let in the Light, the pendulum begins to swing back toward the direction from which Wright began her melodic excursion, yet swaying and wobbling a bit on its way back. The dissonant clang of Over the Sun has faded away, and in its place, Wright fills the record with many varied aspects of her musical identity, from theatrical, Weill-ian cabaret to simple, graceful guitar pop. And while Light isn’t a record to be confused with I’m From Barcelona, it most certainly allows light to fall over its melodic terrain, highlighting the subtleties and simple graces of each song.
The staccato piano chords that open “Defy This Love” recall the Weimar Republic pop of 2000’s Maps of Tacit, one of Wright’s finest hours, to be sure. The melancholy drama is a welcome return here, a simple, yet engaging introduction, which almost instantly makes an about-face on “St. Pete,” opening with dreamy guitar noodling and erupting into a catchy, simple two-chord rocker. Even with the slight upturn in mood, musically, Wright’s lyrics cling to resigned longing: “I know you won’t be coming home to me.” Settling back behind the piano on “You Baffle Me,” Wright elegantly chirps the song’s title over a gorgeous, waltzing chorus. It’s a delicately accessible song, one in which everything sounds perfectly arranged, even though little more than Kyle Crabtree’s drums and Amanda Kapousouz’s violin are added to the mix.
The title track is among the album’s most bare, consisting of only Wright’s guitar for the first minute, with her sedate, sorrowful voice entering soon after and Crabtree adding drums for the final stretch. Similar in arrangement but drastically different in execution, “Don’t You Doubt Me” stomps with a Zeppelin-like ferocity. With only guitar, voice and drums, it rocks hard, Wright lending it a cryptic soothsayer quality with her lyrics, “it will come/ and when it comes/ don’t send it back.” With “Steadfast and True,” Wright returns to a Weill-ian, heartbroken operetta, verses and choruses delivered in triplets: “Steadfast and true/ gentle are few/ when everything just slips away.” The spectral “They’ll Kill the Actor in the End” is a candlelit piano treat, sounding like a spare, gothic cousin to The Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” Well, at least that’s how I heard it.
The final pair of songs on Let In the Light are two of the finest examples of the playfulness that Shannon Wright occasionally indulges in. The first, “Louise,” is a bouncy, sing-songy tune that has a fun, old-timey sound whilst retaining a twinge of sadness. The album’s closer, “Everyone Has Their Own Part to Play,” is downright Beatlesque in its colorful psychedelic whimsy. Alas, as Wright sings “I should have known better than to ask for something you wouldn’t give,” it’s clear that the joy of “All You Need is Love” hasn’t quite overcome the Southern singer. And maybe that’s all for the best. It’s almost impossible to imagine a Shannon Wright album without a dark side. The beauty of Let in the Light, however, is that it has a brighter melodic counterpoint, perfectly balancing the best of Wright’s strongest traits.
MP3: “St. Pete”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.