When someone is great at doing something in a simple manner, is it a good idea to try to make them do it all fancy? Shannon Shaw has made a handful of good-to-excellent albums with Shannon & the Clams, with her soulful and swaggering voice matched by a rough-and-ready rock & roll band playing music that has one foot in your favorite oldies station and the other in a sweaty D.I.Y.
Having established her bona fides with her band, Shaw tries something significantly more ambitious on 2018's Shannon in Nashville, where she's paired with a grand-scale studio band assembled by producer Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), featuring legendary session players Gene Chrisman and Bobby Wood along with a crew of Auerbach's skillful cronies.
Where Shannon & the Clams made a virtue of their stripped-down sound, Shannon in Nashville is an exercise in studio craft of the highest order, with arrangements clearly inspired by lush '60s pop and vintage countrypolitan sounds complete with strings, horns, and massed backing vocalists.
The good news is that Shannon in Nashville reveals Shaw was more than up to the challenge; she never sounds intimidated by her surroundings, and if there's a bit more nuance here by virtue of her having a wider dynamic palette to play with, she still sounds passionate and isn't afraid to let the grain in her voice show when it suits the song.
Shaw also steps up as a songwriter here; she co-wrote most of these tunes with Auerbach, and her unpretentious but artful character studies mesh very well with Auerbach's retro-styled melodies, and while much of Shannon in Nashville sounds like it could have poured out of a car radio in 1963, it never forces the faux nostalgia and has an up-to-date mindset lurking behind the backward-looking approach.
It would probably be a mistake for Shannon Shaw to break up Shannon & the Clams in favor of a solo career, but Shannon in Nashville demonstrates she's capable of more than she's shown us in the past, and this is an experiment that succeeds with flying colors.