Pull It Together, by Shannon Stephens
On her third album, Shannon Stephens reins in her chamber-folk experimentalism in favor of a bluesy little band that takes her songs to unexpected places. Her sound remains relatively subdued, yet it grooves and pops and even swaggers.
Stephens’s songcraft is best at its most complex when her melodies and chord progressions dart around a little. “Care of You” is a standout; it quickly locates a darker corner of Americana, throws it a few pleasing curve balls and wraps up in three minutes flat. The disappointing “Buddy Up to the Bully,” however, starts in a predictable blues-rock spot and simply stays put.
Both songs feature a signature trait: Stephens’s emotionally immediate lyrics. These she writes with too much flair to come off as overearnest; her words are confident, colorful and sometimes sarcastic. On “Out of Sight,” an electric piano groove sets up this attention-getter: “Oh the world owes me a living / Because I’m wonderful.” Having concisely established a persona of youthful entitlement, she soon turns its ungrateful attention to God: “He’s the one who made my life / How about making it less difficult?” The more sincere songs take the occasional turn toward sentimental cliché. But overall Stephens connects, offering direct language line to line and ambitious themes song to song.