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Shannon McNally
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8pm SHANNON McNALLY! free show!

July 21, 2013


knows Bobby Charles through his songs. Charles wrote such instantly

recognizable hits as “See You Later Alligator,” “Walking to New Orleans”

and “But I Do,” but the reclusive singer/songwriter, who passed away in

2010, is relatively unknown for his own recordings.

The vocalist Shannon McNally, along with New Orleans musical legend Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack have made a new LP to try and shine

a spotlight on Charles’ body of work. Small Town Talk is an album of

songs by the great but under-appreciated American songwriter Bobby

Charles, which features guest performances by Derek Trucks, Will Sexton,

Luther Dickinson, and Vince Gill.

Charles’ story is an extraordinary one.

Small Town Talk is a labor of love that was recorded with Charles’

approval and input before his death, offering a posthumous tribute to

this wonderful artist’s career. McNally and Dr. John consulted with

Charles before choosing a group of songs that give us a broad overview

of Charles’ work. McNally’s dark, probing vocals explore by turns the

passion, deep soul and sparkling wit of this material, while Dr. John

frames the structures with sure-handed arrangements augmented by the

brilliant Wardell Quezergue and played enthusiastically by Mac’s New

Orleans-based band, the Lower 911.

The inspiration for Small

Town Talk came from the self titled album Charles recorded in Woodstock

with members of The Band, and released by Bearsville Records in tk.

McNally’s love for that record led her to tell Charles she wanted to

revisit it.

“Those songs oriented me musically,” says McNally.

“I had so devoured everything that The Band did that finding Bobby was

almost a relief. That crowd of musicians had a way of making music that

got under my skin in a nagging kind of way.”

“I initiated the

project when I sat in for Bobby in 2007 at Jazz Fest on the Lagniappe

stage. That was the first time I played with Mac. I had mentioned

revisiting that Bearsville album with Mac to Bobby the day before at

rehearsal and he thought that was a great idea. At the time the album

was unavailable, which seemed an utter sin to me. Bobby didn’t make it

to the Jazz Fest show but Mac was there, we did the set and it went

exceptionally well. I mentioned my concept of reinterpreting the Bobby

Charles album to Mac, and to my amazement he went for the idea. That was

in April. We made it into the studio that following December.”

The project turned into more than just a remake of the Bobby Charles

album as McNally worked closely with Charles and Dr. John on the

material. “I got together with Bobby every day talking about songs and

picking out the right ones to include,” says McNally. “We ended up

selecting five songs from the Bobby Charles record. ‘Long Face,’ ‘Small

Town Talk,’ ‘Street People,’ ‘Good Place Now’ and ‘Save Me Jesus.’ ‘Save

Me Jesus’ isn’t on the final CD or LP but will be a bonus track. We did

those songs, then we did songs that Mac and Bobby suggested that were

more obscure. As it turned out, this album is something more of a

retrospective of Bobby’s catalog of songs, than a record focused solely

on the record Bobby made with The Band, as I had originally envisioned.”

McNally and Dr. John unearthed some little known gems that Charles had

written over the course of the latter’s career. “We ended up doing ‘But I

Do,’ which was a big hit for Frogman Henry in 1961. We cut ‘I Don’t

Want To Know,’ which I knew from Lil’ Band o’ Gold, a later Bobby album.

Then Bobby suggested a song called ‘String ofHearts’, also from one of

his later records, which Vince Gill sang on.” Finally, Dr. John also

gave Shannon a cassette of a rare recording of Joe Cocker singing

‘Smile’ [‘I’m So Glad You Came Along’]. “I’m not sure what year Cocker

did it, but he still had that Mad Dogs And Englishmen growl and I

thought it was hip. For some ridiculous reason it never got released and

so no one’s ever heard it.”

“Bobby was there every day, and

really enjoyed it. He and Mac have been friends forever, and Bobby and I

had gotten to be pretty good buddies as well. We talked a lot about all

the songs as we were going along, and he’d make comments and

suggestions. He lived nearby the studio so it was easy to visit. He was a

tremendous character. With him and Mac together in a room the stories

were endless and all of them pretty great if you like rock and roll

behind the scenes history lessons, as I do. It took us about a week to

record about 15 songs.” In the studio with McNally, Dr. John and Charles

were the members of the Lower 911 band — guitarist John Fohl, bassist

David Barard and drummer Herman Ernest.

McNally was amazed at how effortless the whole session felt.

“We would cut live with Mac and the lower 911 band,” McNally recalls.

“We would cut one of Mac’s songs, then we would call whatever Bobby song

we decided on, listen to whatever version we had, and we’d just come up

with an arrangement on the spot. Mac is a genius. People use that word

loosely but musically speaking he’s brilliant. Whatever he does, it just

comes out rich and melodic. What’s so remarkable about the record is

how comfortable it was to make, how easy. At the time I felt like these

songs had been written for me personally.”

“I was over the moon

about working with Mac, just walking on air. That piano sound… that

classic approach… the level of authority that he brings to a song. Add

to that the history of these songs, and the sessions just felt magical. I

couldn’t have been happier or more excited to get to do this.”

Mac decided to bring in Wardell Quezergue, to embellish the

arrangements. Quezergue, was an American music arranger, producer and

bandleader, known among New Orleans musicians as the “Creole Beethoven”.

Known for his work on classic tracks like King Floyd’s “Groove Me”,

Jean Knight’s “Mr Big Stuff” and on recordings by legendary New Orleans

artists like Professor Longhair and Fats Domino.


touch is evident in Charley Miller’s beautiful flute part on “I Must Be

in a Good Place Now,” the horn chart on “Street People” and the gorgeous

string arrangement on “String of Hearts.”

“Mac brought Wardell

in at the end to do the strings and horns,” McNally recalls. He was 80

years old, had been in New Orleans his whole life. There was nothing he

didn’t know about music. That he respected me as a vocalist cemented

something for me inside.”

“That was one of Wardell’s last

projects,” Mac adds. “I loved what he did, especially with the strings

on ‘String of Hearts.’ Listen, Wardell was beyond great. He wasn’t any

one kind of arranger; he could do anything. If he was arranging for

strings, he was a string arranger. If he was doing big band arrangements

he was a big band arranger.”

The record has taken its sweet

time coming out, but the project has been completed with the blessings

of the Charles estate. A few final touches brought the addition of

special guests Derek Trucks, who plays the glorious guitar solo on

“Cowboys and Indians,” Will Sexton, who joins McNally on guitar for

“Homemade Songs,” Luther Dickinson, who adds a guitar part to “Can’t Pin

a Color and an achingly gorgeous vocal duet with Vince Gill on “String

Of Hearts.”

“The day Bobby died I spoke to him on the phone. I

was excited because I was opening for Willie Nelson in New Orleans that

night and told him I’d come see him as soon as I could get there. Mac

called me the next morning to let me know that he was gone. What a

character he was. I can say with certainty that there will never be

another one like him. I’ll miss him.”


Shannon McNally - North American Ghost Music Songstress

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