Music to Travel the World By
Shanna Underwood’s new CD, “Fieldnotes From a Caravan”, includes nine songs that showcase her brassy, working-girl vocals and her original melodies. The full arrangements on these tracks include some excellent guitar work by Underwood herself, as well as some great contributions by a band of very talented friends from Nashville and Maine.
My favorite song on this album is “There Was a Town”, which I originally thought was about Portland, Maine, but alas, is not! Moriah Harris provides a nice fiddle line that runs through this tune, underlying the melody and bringing out an Appalachian mood. Underwood’s alternating bass line and strum on her acoustic provides a solid folk and country foundation. The bass line by Chris Clawson is in the back of the mix, very subtle, but it makes itself known where it is needed. The arrangement and mix on this track is very representative of the work throughout the disc – full, but nicely balanced, and with Shanna’s vocals taking center stage.
Shanna’s lyrical skills are at their best when she finds sensory allegories and proxies for the experiences and characterizations that she wants to convey. In this song, she sings about a town that “started small, Smelled like saltwater and smoke in the fall”. When that town changes, or when life changes around you, she advises:
“You’ve got to love that town for what it is
And find a little happiness”
“Venue Burns” has an almost rockabilly feel to it, with a bright beat, and some spooky, wet electric guitar work by Kevin Gordon. There’s an introspective, retrospective mood, with allusions to old friends, freedom, and loss, set against the movement of planets in the sky.
“Dream Next to Me” is a nice, down-tempo ballad with a great loping melody and beat. Harris’s fiddle lends some melancholy highlights to the chorus. I heard a story in the lyric about a day shared by lovers who know they will soon part, and they both know why, and why that’s best, but maybe just for today, they will be in denial.
I want to call out Portlander Jo Bloom, who contributes his expert harmonica work on a few of these songs, especially the very blues-tinged “Dusty Books”. Joe has worked with Shanna for years, and he knows how to bring her songs to life with emotion and color. We are very lucky in Maine to have a guy like Joe blowing harp for us.
Eric Elsner and Troy Jones provide the solid drum and percussion work for these tracks, Josh Pessar adds some electric and acoustic guitar, and Dan Schaefer backs Shanna with some nicely positioned harmony vocals. The disc was recorded by Azal Khan, and mastered by Andrija Tokic at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Tenn. All of these folks have done a great job for Shanna, and their efforts have resulted in a record that is very professional, well produced, and easy to listen to.
Shanna credits Maine as the basis for one or two of these songs, but she says that most of the material comes from her experiences traveling the globe, including Nepal, Thailand, Korea, Eastern Europe, and various parts of North America. She does give a boatload of songwriting inspirational credit to Kathy Hussey’s songwriting circle in Nashville.
I’ve known Shanna since back in the days when she helped to start and grow the Maine Songwriters Association. She did a lot for folks involved in the local Maine music scene over the years, before moving on; she now lives in Nashville, when she’s not traveling the world. It’s great to see her new CD come home to Portland; I hope that you will buy a copy and give it a listen.