Album Review: Shannen Moser – I’ll Sing

Posted: by The Editor

Shannen Moser’s voice rumbles every corner of every room in which she performs. It rattles the fences in batting cages moonlighting as venues, shakes the spiderwebs from the corners of basements. Her voice has the effect of expanding small rooms into huge, cathedral-like spaces with high ceilings, filled to every nook and cranny with sound.

Paradoxically, Moser’s songs are small and intimate, maybe even shy. A line like “If there’s a single thing that still amazes you / Then that’s the reason for all the living that I know you don’t want to do” can erase the room itself and all the people around you. Moser’s songs ring with understated, true observations and stories that unexpectedly go right for the gut.

Because of the power of her voice and the incisive style of her songwriting, Shannen Moser makes a wondrous live impression, even when experiencing her music for the first time. Her new record, I’ll Sing, confirms this impression with gusto. A gorgeous piece of Americana, I’ll Sing is the kind of record that wills autumn into existence, that seems to turn the leaves brown and chill the air just slightly with every song. I’ll Sing feels like a portrait of Philadelphia in the fall, and a loving and memorable one at that.

It may seem like a stretch to take this much from a record as sparse and down-to-earth sounding as I’ll Sing, but these seemingly small songs grow bigger and more pronounced the more time you spend with them. “Haircut Song” captures a shifting and crumbling relationship swiftly and with such detail, packing an aching complexity into its opening anecdote:

“Remember when I met you, your hair was long
You asked me to cut it for ya’, so I did an okay job
So now I think of this whole thing in two parts:
Before I cut your hair, and when I gave you haircuts.”

Against Philly streets and parks, a whole interpersonal story rings through “Haircut Song,” and there’s plenty of this kind of loaded detail throughout I’ll Sing. “Every Town” is bouncy and nostalgic song about missing somebody, a whole relationship told through the little things—games of Uno and rides around town.

Most of the songs on I’ll Sing clock in under the three minute mark and they all do an impeccable job of sinking in quickly and leaving you gently. Take “Trouble,” for instance, a bluesy acoustic song in which Collins Bear Regisford (who plays bass for Mannequin Pussy) takes over vocals for a verse, which sounds achingly classic. It’s the kind of song you’d find on a dusty 45’’, stored away in your parents basement, and you’d play it over and over again with the windows open and your eyes closed. And you’d be so sucked into the bare, endlessly repeating acoustic strumming and the show-stopping call-and-response between Moser and Regisford that you wouldn’t even flinch as the needle stopped spinning around the wax, you’d just stand up and start it over right away.

So much of I’ll Sing feels classic in this way. It reminds me, in scope, sound, and in Moser’s general ability to weave so much depth into her stories of joy and pain, of Kevin Devine’s Put Your Ghost to Rest. And like Devine, Moser’s recorded work only gives half of the her full portrait as an artist. I’ll Sing captures Moser’s powerful voice better than last year’s excellent Oh, My Heart, but her live performance provides a whole other essential dimension to her work. Both are worthwhile on their own, but together they reveal a potentially unstoppable songwriter—one with the power to make stuffed, crowded rooms feel starkly intimate and lonely bedrooms feel full.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Jordan Walsh | @jordalsh

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