Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The female as protagonist in SJI - meet Shanimal

Cover designed by the artist, Shannon Kerner
There is a lot of good, well-crafted music around these days. The best of it is in a genre that I have come to think of as "portable music." Portable music does not require, for instance, a constellation of drums that takes three roadies to set up; percussion can be accomplished with, oh, djembe hand drums, or cajons, or sticks and rattles and cardboard boxes. The performance of portable music does not require huge amplifiers, elaborate stage sets, video projectors, platoons of dancers, explosions, acrobats, elephants, pigs, dirigibles, catwalks, tightropes, inflated tongues, personal trainers, or investment bankers. Portable music is not music of spectacle; unless we believe that there is a spectacle of the ears. This aural spectacle is described by the interplay of the instruments, the connection between the musicians, and the focused concentration of the listener.

All the instruments in Shanimal's 2011 CD, rough & tumble, can be carried onto the stage by the performers. Shanimal is Shannon Kerner, songwriter, vocalist, and kazoo player, and her talented band.

Shanimal's rendition of "St. James Infirmary" features an unlikely combination of portable instruments - including banjo, accordion, and clarinet - and the mourning patron in Old Joe's Barroom is an equally unlikely (up until now) Big Joan McKennedy. In fact, most of the characters are female, from the body stretched out on the table to the girls goin' to the graveyard. The singer wears, in her coffin, not a Stetson but a flapper hat. However, Old Joe remains Old Joe, while at the grave-site the singer asks for "a chorus boy to sing me a song." Shannon sings with deep passionate restraint, clearly communicating the cinematic arc of the song. I detect no percussive instruments - rather, the downward stroke on the guitar gives much of the rhythmic shape, the accordion maintains the pulse, banjo describes filigrees in the background, and the clarinet, often echoing the accordion through the song, takes the first instrumental solo, and a couple of verses later lends support to a tastefully complex acoustic guitar solo. I like this song more with each listening.

This CD rewards the listener. Shannon sparkles, and on "Wedding Song" inhabits two characters, imbuing each with a distinct voice. But this is not a record review. This is about "St. James Infirmary" and here we have another worthwhile contemporary take on a once old song.

To listen (5:50 at 256 kbps) click here: Shanimal's "St. James Infirmary" MP3

(Thank you, Shanimal, for permission to post this.)

ps If you like this song, I really recommend that you purchase the CD. It's a treat.

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