[Typist’s Notes: FULL DISCLOSURE — Not only have I known fellow musician Shauna Sweeney for years, she has thanked me on several of her CDs, including this one. The thanks over the years have been for different reasons, but in the case of this album the reason will be explained within this review.]
I hate to say it, but when I started buying albums by local musicians all those years ago, I quickly learned that no matter how good the artist sounded live, getting a well-engineered recording was not a given. But with singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Shauna Sweeney’s latest effort, not only are the sonics on her self-produced album great, she has also achieved a much loftier artistic goal.
Shauna has always been a good songwriter, so no surprise she would deliver a great set of tunes. But these songs are the best representation of a local musician’s personality and philosophy I have ever heard.
That may sound like hype on my part, since I have already disclosed that I know Shauna personally. But while previous albums have had infusions of her sunny optimistic personality, this one seems to capture it perfectly.
This eleven-track album was recorded during the pandemic pause when Shauna’s busy gig schedule came to a screeching halt, but none of the fear, uncertainty and doubt of that period found its way into her songs. Shauna counts her way into “The Flow”, a song designed to encourage listeners stuck “in a rut” to “take a step” towards “a new direction.” The song is initially performed mainly a capella, i.e., with a light dusting of percussion, before evolving into a full-band arrangement. This track literally starts the album off on a high note, as it is one of the best on the album.
“The Flow” is followed by the title track, a quietly upbeat ode to domestic bliss nicely augmented by jazzy guitar riffs played by Ryan Haire. “Next To You” has a similar lyrical theme but is performed with more of an acoustic arrangement. And sandwiched between these two depictions of a happy relationship is “Rock Paper Scissors”, a song that started off life as a spontaneous composition during one of Shauna’s pandemic performances online. Shauna’s ability to improvise a song on the spot really shines through on this track. The opening line “Which will I choose” was literally something Shauna said as she wondered which song to play next, and one of her listeners suggested the children’s game of “Rock Paper Scissors” as a way to decide.
Another track that illustrates Shauna’s ability to write a song in a hurry is “Antartica”, which she both composed and performed while on a cruise to that southernmost continent.
The song “You Are The World To Me” sounds like it was composed to be an audience sing-a-long number for a large-stage concert. This track has a funky ’90s-rock feel to it, with drums by Aston Barrett Jr., son of Bob Marley’s bandleader “Family Man”, and bass by his wife Alaina.
“Bittersweet” is probably the oldest song on this album, as Shauna wrote this at the time of her first EP but the producers of that effort declined to record it then. The composition never made it on to any of Shauna’s subsequent CDs either, as I suspect Shauna felt the song, a look back at a failed relationship, was sadder than it actually is. But I think she knew she had something there, though, as she continued to play it at her gigs, particularly at my request. I always found the song to be compelling, and I lobbied for years for it to be recorded, so if you like this track, you have me to thank, in a sense.
(I have often wondered if the title track is a subconscious sequel to “Bittersweet”, with the lyric “I’ve had my share of bitter, now I’m ready for some sweet” seemingly a nod to the older composition.)
The follow-on track is a solo acoustic number “A Little Bit Better” that, albeit brief, is exceedingly effective at evoking a sense of calm and contentment.
The next song “Here If You Need Me” is a sweet composition directed at her younger brother as he celebrated a milestone birthday; the lyrics are a lovely reflection on sibling love and the passage of time. (By the way, this song is mis-numbered in the track listing of the CD, perhaps one of the few flaws of this album.)
Shauna saves her most experimental track “Yours To Choose (Heya)” for what is essentially the album closer, since the last track is another version of “Next To You”. Shauna gets to indulge her love for percussion on this song, including a singing bowl given to her by her sister as a souvenir from a trip abroad. This track is like a hypnotic tribal chant, with lyrics that convey a simple but positive affirmation of people’s ability to choose what they do.
So how to end a review that started out by saying that the album is great? Perhaps with an exhortation to give this collection of songs a listen. I can promise the experience will not be bittersweet.