Shannon Wright – Let in the Light

4 out of 5

Label: Quarterstick Records

Produced by: Andy Baker

Singer-songwriters are a mixed bag with me. Lyrics are too personal or, oppositely, try too hard to be deeply relative for everyone; songs are either too overblown or too minimal. I do better with those that seem to treat the venture more as a band, with it just-so-happening that the band name is shared with the singer-songwriter… and Shannon Wright, across her many variations of rocker or stripped-down songstress, almost always manages to balance these traits in an ultimately satisfying fashion. On Let in the Light, now working solely with bassist Andy Baker on production – previous albums had split work from Baker and Steve Albini – she seems especially focused on this balance, but also especially open to experimentation on either side of the line. Songs prance and waltz and slow down and simmer, and burble, but Wright never loses track of a need for a hook, or a sense of rhythm. A track crawls around a simple, but effective image, and then releases its riff or a sudden beat, captured with warmth urgency by Baker. There are a wealth of tricks, here, selectively applied – strings, layered vocals, piano – given the disc a delightful sense of variation, while also boiling things down to the very barest – purest – of lyrical concepts, and melodies. Regarding the former, this is a neat trick: Wright’s words are both personal and universal, emoting in a way that seems drawn from her own thoughts and feelings, but told with words that are open enough to create our own versions of those thoughts and feelings. A little past the midpoint, this approach can start to seem a tad too withheld; songs become sketches, or just warm up before moving on… but then Wright unleashes two masterful takes to close things out: the minimalist piano jaunt of Louise and the poppy goodness of Everybody’s Got Their Part to Play, and the whole experience just snaps back together, a concise puzzle of excellent songcraft.