Jimmy Shannon – Better Now than Ever
Jimmy Shannon’s last album Better Late than Never gave listeners a vivid look at the depth and emotion this artist is capable of and his latest, Better Now than Ever, builds on that with another excellent collection. The eleven songs on this release cut across multiple genres and never confine themselves to one style; there’s hints of pop and blues music peeking through in significant ways. He’s joined by an able cast of fellow musicians whose collaboration with Shannon further enriches an already stellar collection. Shannon is the best kind of musical talent – he’s a talented musician and songwriter, but there’s no self-indulgence here, no pretentious workouts designed to impress you with his skill. Shannon, instead, serves the song and the results will appeal to a wide gamut of fans. This is music not looking to serve one narrow swath of the music buying public. Shannon wants to communicate with anyone who loves music and does so marvelously.
“He Said… She Said” is one of the album’s best moments on every level. It has a little bit of urgency, even for a primarily acoustic tune, and the duet between Shannon’s voice and a female singer is quite effective. The crowning musical element of the song, however, is the emotive violin playing lacing its way through the entire song. Backing vocals are a crucial part of what makes many of these songs work and the multi-tracked vocals on “Hometown” help lift what might otherwise be a relatively mundane number to another level. He’s traveling through familiar thematic territory, a look back on the place where he was born and the experience of growing up there, but the surrounding arrangement and his evocative vocal treatment help elevate it above commonplace. The energetic “I Don’t Want To Lose You” features some stirring horn work and strong guitar to help propel its fine lyric. Shannon’s delivery is very good and helps get the songwriting over even more, but it also further accentuates the commercial viability of the song. It’s one of the album’s best examples of that sort of approach on Better Now than Ever.”I Lost My Way” is a very tender turn on the album and has a strong classic country music influence heard in the use of steel guitar. The instrument doesn’t overpower the song, however, and the influence comes through in other even more subtle ways.
“Reason to Stay” is the album’s longest track and it has enough musical variety to sustain its extended length. The subject of the song isn’t blazingly original, such songs are common place both in pop and singer/songwriter circles. Electric guitar doesn’t always exert its influence over the arrangements, but its presence is certainly felt on the track “I Can Help You” without ever throwing the song off balance. The album’s final track is a second version of the album’s third song “I Don’t Want to Lose You”. The key difference between the different take is the lack of brass on the last track and a stronger keyboard presence. The absence of horns forces listeners to focus on the vocals and guitar giving the performance a much rockier effect. Better Now than Ever has honest energy and everything fits into place, but it never plays everything entirely safe and its occasional gambles pay off for the audience. Jimmy Shannon’s written and recorded his strongest album.
9 out of 10 stars