Shannon McNally–Live @ Red Clay Theatre

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5-4-2017

I’ve seen McNally three times before, and I finally caught her on the right stage - as in one with good sound quality.  The Red Clay Theatre in Duluth, GA isn’t exactly an easy commute from where I live, particularly on a weeknight, but it’s worth it.  RCT is a 260 seat listening room, as in, “You’re here to enjoy the music; your idle chat can wait until after the show.”   On CD, McNally’s voice is a joy – production levels can be mixed to make clear its depth and inflections.  But live, with an electric guitar or two, bass, and drums, and her bluesy, gravely voice and nuanced delivery get obliterated by the din amplifiers and less than ideal house/stage speakers.

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Not here.  She was accompanied only by guitarist/singer Johnny Duke, who opened the evening with a solid set of songs.  He’s been a sideman to many high profile Nashville country artists, but his own style seems to be the singer/songwriter indie variety – respectful of whatever makes the song work.  It was apparent why he tours frequently with other artists, because instrumentally he’s a significant upgrade for McNally – a versatile ally to give space to her voice yet elevate her fairly straightforward song structures with a variety of guitar styles – and mandolin at times.

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McNally is just beginning a tour to support her new CD, Irish Rose, from which she played a good number of songs.  The centerpiece is “Banshee Moan,” whose theme takes the Irish mythology and personalizes it.  This may also have been the song whose musical intro was accompanied by a passing train horn behind the venue.  Spooky like.

McNally had ample time and enjoyed telling stories between the song, which is all the better in my opinion when artists let some of their personality or interests show.  We heard how she stood next to J.J. Cale on a New Orleans sidewalk, without introducing herself, the early career of Bobby Charles (of whose songs she recorded an entire album), another celebrity proximity story as she received a passing acknowledgement from Guy Clark as she was heading to a stage, and her pleasure in hearing rain on the roof.  And there were others.

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The only thing lacking was a larger crowd to enjoy the show.  It seemed those there knew her catalog pretty well.   Probably like many artists, the only thing separating her from a wide audience is the means - all it would take would be one song placed in a  TV or music soundtrack.  In the meantime, I hope her live shows continue with the acoustic/light electric approach – it allows her to be heard to her best advantage.  

Some of the songs she played:

  • You Made Me Feel For You
  • Black Haired Boy
  • Low Rider (JJ Cale)
  • I Don’t Want to Know
  • Banshee Moan
  • Bohemian Wedding Song
  • Old Man (Neil Young)
  • Bolder than Paradise (I think)
  • The Worst Part of a Broken Heart
  • This Never Happened, I Was Never Here

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