Seattle-based singer/songwriter Shannon Stephens came to a stark realization when she set out to make the successor to her exquisite 2009 comeback album The Breadwinner: "I turned 35 and all of a sudden I didn’t have the energy to give a shit what people thought about me anymore." Liberated from expectations and eager to both move forward and step back to her roots, Stephens confidently steers clear of the self-conscious and dreamy on her new Pull It Together (May 22, Asthmatic Kitty), choosing instead a real-world musical landscape of gritty, folk/blues and clear-eyed, deeply emotional alt/pop. The edges are rough to the touch, the nerves exposed as joy and anger, determination and frustration speak clearly and distinctly from one song to the next. You can also sense Stephens' role as a bandleader this time around, leaving spaces to be filled by her studio cohorts (including members of old chum Sufjan Stevens' band). The cut-to-the-bone "What Love Looks Like" glistens like cold night rain on a back street, beautiful but raw, Stephen's vocals a soulful, smoky counterpoint to the stripped, no-frills instrumentation behind her.
Shannon Stephens - "What Love Looks Like" (from Pull It Together)
Shannon Stephens - "Cold November" (from Pull It Together)