She’s busked on the streets of Paris, opened for Stevie Nicks, and sang the blues on Geronimo, and now, Shannon McNally has quite earnestly tackled the West, track by track. Western Ballad could run the too-common risk of entering honkytonks and never coming out, but McNally manages to escape that world, relatively unscathed.
McNally’s Melissa Etheridge-meets-Trisha Yearwood pipes become Western Ballad’s immediate saving grace. “Memory of a Ghost,” the disc’s familiar, mid-tempo, ghost town of an opener, might be precisely that – if not for her way with words, wrapping her voice around them, owning them. That possession plays on in McNally’s ode to nature’s ostensible wonders (“High”) and to things gone by (“When I Am Called”).
The title track is, coincidentally, the set’s longest runner, and a necessary one. Its simple instrumentation and McNally’s desperate, yearning vocals provide a brief bit of peace before her quick venture into honkytonk territory. Indeed, “True Possession” might be Broadway’s perfect sonic fit (Nashville’s Broadway, that is), but its lyrics beg to differ. “I am my one and only true possession,” McNally insists. She certainly fulfills that claim, leaving her unique mark with the country-accented French experiment, “Tristesse Oubilée,” and the deceivingly titled, seemingly long-lost Jeff Buckley “Hallelujah” companion, “Rock and Roll Angels.”
Ironically, McNally loses herself in the summery “Toast” and dragging closer, “In My Own Second Line.” Of course, the West is never easily won – but McNally is largely victorious, nonetheless.
Western Ballad is out now on Sacred Sumac Records.