The coast is calling, and Shannon Whitworth is packed and ready.
If her first two albums were cross-country treks (and they were, taking her across the U.S. and Canada in support of Chris Isaak and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band), High Tide is a trans-Atlantic voyage. Leaving all preconceptions of the banjo-wielding songstress behind, Whitworth’s new adventure steers into waters both familiar and refreshingly new.
Since her days as the anchor voice and songwriter of lauded N.C. ensemble The Biscuit Burners, Shannon Whitworth has attracted international attention with her passionate presence and a talent that’s evident within moments of taking the stage.
Whitworth’s swoon-inducing style found its first showcase in her Asheville-produced solo debut, 2007’s No Expectations. Followed by 2009’s critically-acclaimed Water Bound (an album that drew comparisons to Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball), Whitworth garnered praise in outlets ranging from People magazine to Garden & Gun. Her honest reinterpretation of ‘Americana,’ a la Mark Knopfler meets Norah Jones and the ghost of Julie London, has garnered Whitworth prime appearances from Philledelphia Folk Festival to Yosemite’s Strawberry Music Festival to Nashville’s own Ryman Auditorium.
Back home last year after endless months traveling coast-to-coast, Whitworth took time to relax on her Brevard, N.C. farm, painting in her barn-cum-studio and letting songs come naturally to her. Organic and pure in its origins and execution, High Tide is poised to outfit Whitworth’s vessel for a figurative ocean crossing.From the first rolling rhythms, it’s evident that this album charts new waters. A Gibson SG joins Whitworth’s quiver of acoustic guitar, banjo and ukelele, and for the first time, the band is her own. Whereas her first two efforts utilized seasoned Nashville studio pros, High Tide calls upon the people who know her music best, from producer Seth Kauffman (Floating Action) to bassist Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses).
Just as her music stems from Appalachian roots (she’s a favorite at MerleFest) but sheds its traditional skin at the door, High Tide begins with a journey to the sea that takes rest stops in reverb-drenched jazz and indie rock along the way, setting the mood for a tight but playful expedition.
“So many of my songs were penned from darkness, and High Tide came from a place of light,” Whitworth explains. “It’s about heading towards that good feeling.” ‘La Croix’ takes listeners to the islands, diving into a reef of deep poignancy and examining the ‘Oh shit, I’m vulnerable,’ catch-22 that comes with falling in love. ‘Henry,’ the album’s oldest track, was born of two women drinking at a bar, commiserating over another foolhardy romance gone wrong. Whitworth dug up the rudimentary original lyrics years later from the back of a journal, its words smeared by the sweat of a bottle. “I feel like you make peace with life’s situations by making songs of them along the way,” says Whitworth, underscoring her desire to engage audiences with clarity and honesty.
A remake of ‘Don’t Lie,’ originally recorded as a banjo-rambler on Water Bound, embodies Whitworth’s new approach, recalling more Mazzy Star than Patsy Cline (but still without shedding her indelible Southern charm).
Following a year that heard Whitworth as the singing voice of Belk department store’s latest national marketing campaign and the release of a duets album, Bring It On Home (including deep tracks from Paul Simon, Tom Waits, and Sam Cooke) with band member and guitarist Barrett Smith, Whitworth releases High Tide with a reinvigorated confidence and enthusiasm. Whether you’re holed up in a chilly Appalachian barn or walking the coast on a hot August evening, Whitworth’s High Tide holds universal appeal, from the mountains to the sea.