After Shannon Whitworth's performance at the 2010 Savannah Music Festival, many people - this writer among them - predicted great things for the Asheville singer/songwriter.
It was the voice – sultry, smooth, a kind of honey–blend of New Orleans and Appalachia (think Peggy Lee on “puree” with Gillian Welch). And the songs, tender but tough lyrics, strong and defiant with a hint of vulnerability peeking out the corners. Moving melodies that go places.
And the musicianship. Whitworth is a multi-instrumentalist; she came of age, musically, playing clawhammer banjo in the Americana group the Biscuit Burners. Last year, she had a band of stellar musicians backing her up, making the songs resonate even more. Shortly afterwards, she released her second CD, Water Bound, on which she explores a broader sonic palette, ther way Emmylou Harris did when she worked with producer Daniel Lanois. It’s Shannon Whitworth's Wrecking Ball.
Whitworth's Nov. 8 show at the Landings' Plantation Club - open to the public - comes on the heels of 18 months' worth of astonishment and praise - the world is beginning to discover what we all saw back at that Music Festival performance.
Last time we spoke, you described yourself as "not very ambitious." You've been getting incredible reviews since then. Are you more interested in your career now?
Shannon Whitworth: Definitely, yeah, like a fire. There's a new energy that wasn't there, for sure. Just getting to know myself as a musician, and knowing what I like to do, and seeing what I can do. Trying a lot of new things until something resonated. The new album brought me to a really fun place, creatively. I always played around with visual art, as well, and Water Bound, I felt like for the first time I got to really bring landscape into music. It wasn't always just with words - I used instruments that I'd never used before on a record. And the producer's palette brought a whole different sort of arsenal into the mix. I've had a uke forever, and I write a lot of my songs on it, but I'd never recorded with a ukulele until Water Bound. I'm being moré myself, I guess. Truthful. I don't know a more artistic way of saying that.
Since people have been singing your praises, do you feel like you now have something to prove?
Shannon Whitworth: No, no, not yet. I don't feel like I've gotten to that point yet. I feel like I'm still walking uphill. But I'm having a blast. If anything, this last year in particular has been this really random year. I've always toured with my band in the past, and have always had those resources around me - not necessarily resources, the sound. I'm in love with my band. I was put in a lot of situations which were uncomfortable, like going on tour as a duo or a trio. And I looked at that like it was not going to be very fun, and it ended up being one of the most growing things I've done.
So you've been on the road a lot?
Shannon Whitworth: I toured with Raul Malo, and I've done some touring with Chris Isaak, and it's been really fun. Those guys, it was really cool. Whatever their audience was, particularly Chris Isaak, I sold out almost all my CDs on the first show of the tour in Canada. I had no idea. It was like, there's an audience out there that wants to hear the truth, you know? What I really want to be doing.
The Biscuit Burners and clawhammer banjo - does that feel like a hundred years ago to you?
Shannon Whitworth: Yes and no. I wouldn't be where I was today if it wasn't for that whole experience. And I'm going to still say that 10 years from now. I definitely value every little step along the way. It's just been a matter of a girl getting comfortable with herself, in her own skin. And in this case, it's my sound, and singing what I want to sing. And writing the words I want to write down, and putting them into a song. All that's come with ... time? And maybe a little more experience. Being around some great musicians.
When someone sitting next to you on an airplane asks what you do, what do you tell them?
Shannon Whitworth: The worst is when they say "What kind of music do you play?" I'm like, "You know, I've never been able to answer this." I totally choke up. I need to come up with a spiel.
Where: The Landings Plantations Club, One Cottonwood Lane
When: At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8
Tickets: $15 at (912) 598-7693
Artist's website: shannonwhitworth.com