Upon first listening to the debut album Jukebox Sparrows by singer-songwriter Shannon McNally, I attempted to list the musicians I was reminded of: Aimee Mann, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow . eventually I gave up counting.
At the core, McNally is a modern cowgirl. She's got an urban look, pouting under smoky eyes, and at first glance, you might pass her off as just another aspiring pop star who can't wait to start shaking her booty across the country. But Long-Island native McNally proves herself immediately as a serious artist as Jukebox Sparrows begins. Her sound is a blend of blues, rock, folk, country and R&B.
Lyrically the album is captivating and intelligent. McNally is no feeble pop star and her band is an accumulation of musical experts. It includes guitarist Greg Leisz, who has worked with Joni Mitchell, and drummer James Gadson, who has backed legends such as Marvin Gaye. Certainly, McNally's musical styles are not brand new, yet somehow the combination of elements distinguishes the artist from the typical and grants her a deserved name.
A press release explains that in a stroke of good fortune, McNally went from playing in small coffeehouses to signing with Capitol Records about two years ago. She has released an EP and has participated in a few tours, but Jukebox Sparrows is her first full-length project. According to the press release, McNally is a debut artist who has emerged "fully formed, with the chops and tunes of a sage old vet."
Although Jukebox Sparrows is impressively well-rounded, I hesitate to say that it is flawless, for I can fully imagine that as time passes and more records are produced, McNally's sound will continue to crystallize. In addition, despite its success, in a close listening, Jukebox Sparrows does play like a debut. There is a noticeable drag mid-album, around tracks like the wailing "Colorado." Nonetheless, the record picks up again, and is overall a solid, enjoyable experience.
The press release calls the album "fearless." I agree that McNally is surprisingly confident, and she deserves to be. Her talent is true and honest. Clearly, McNally is in the business for the music and she loves her job. Even the title of the release "is a nod to her lifelong romance with records." It includes several beautiful tracks, rich with soul and reflection, like the head-bobbing "Bitter Blue" and the quietly sorrowful "Start All Over" with lyrics like, "I'm so tired I lie awake at night/ Watching the moonlight circle my head/ It's just about as blue as blue can get."
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Altogether, the journey of Jukebox Sparrows is a sonic travel through the heart of America. Like the strong female musicians whom McNally echoes, this woman has the potential to leave a great mark on the face of the music industry. Personally, I am excited to see how she progresses. If you have not heard her name yet, listen - I bet that soon enough you will. Until then, Jukebox Sparrows will undoubtedly be regularly rotated in my CD player.