Shannon Stephens releases an EP this week, and while it's not “new” material it signifies “Something Good.” Her band consists of Julian Martlew on guitars, Andrew Rudd on drums, BC Campbell on keys, and Terry Mattson on bass, and for the EP she's turned over two of her older songs to them for re-arranging, and also recorded covers of Depeche Mode and Chaka Khan.
You may have heard her cover of Depeche Mode’s “World in My Eyes” on KEXP, a delicately sparse, syth-less version that trades Dave Gahan’s dismal baritone for Stephens’s dulcet sotto-voce. Under the influence of Stephens and friends the song transforms from creeper synth-pop into just the jam you needed to complete that makeout mixtape you’ve been working on.
Stephens cites the moments between songs in rehearsal as her inspiration lately, when the band launches loosely into jams, riffing on one another's improvisations. There-in lies the magic which thaws some of her older work and leaves springy, modal blossoms where folky ice sculptures once stood. “My Feeble Heart” (which includes some of the most insightful songwriting I’ve ever heard) and “So Gentle Your Arms” get revisits after being first recorded over a decade ago (and a lifetime away), and are better for it because of Stephens’s deeper, stronger, voice, and her humility in leaving the new arrangements to her bandmates.
It’s a personal flaw of mine to be distrustful of everything, including those things earnestly labeled “Something Good,” so it was not until I’d listened ten or twenty times over that I reached satori in the bands cover of Rufus and Chaka Khan. It was the whirling organ, the slinky bass, the slushy crushed ice sound of Rudd’s drumming, and the way Martlew pulls slide notes out of a dobro—all syncopated and sparse. That's when it occurred to me that every song on the EP has the same funk-inspired, off-beat quality.If this is how the band is playing in rehearsal then what lies ahead can only be, you guessed it, something good.