Shannon Wright

Dyed in the Wool (Quarterstick)

Shannon Wright (who also goes by shannonwright) picked up her ball and went home after a label merger at Big Cat in 1998 left the band she originally fronted, Crowsdell, curbside. Gnashing her teeth at the soulless bean counters of the music industry, the Jacksonville native sequestered herself on a farm in North Carolina and banged out Flightsafety, a solo debut of uncommon rhythms and a vocal style that wisely opted for visceral intensity over thumb sucking. Maps of Tacit followed a year later, in 2000, as Wright, a passionate and self-taught musician, earned a reputation as a performer by shouting unknown words while playing a Wurlitzer organ with flashing colored lights.

On her third release, the embittered songbird is still making the kind of stark, waltzy piano-driven music you'd imagine Sylvia Plath -- or catatonics who spent their impressionable years locked in closets -- would enjoy. Not that it's needlessly bleak or ever uninteresting; but it is unrelentingly sad and angry from beginning to end, something even chamomile tea and a hot bath won't cure. Wright works from the darkest of palettes with broad, splattering strokes, painting scary pictures straight from the sunless depths of her gut. She sings of vast decay, blackened eyes, trembling hands, wobbled legs, weeping faces and bodies in boxes. That is, when she's not addressing doleful pleas, thoughtless acts, boorish rackets, fruitless titles and boiling light. If only Mary Sunshine could turn as many cartwheels!

Yet despite her knack for swallowing the occasional syllable or wailing furiously from a tightly clenched throat, Wright pulls off a thing of unmistakable beauty here. Chamber-enhanced tracks like "Vessel for a Minor Malady" unfurl a white flag with the lyrics "there's no cure so why should I care," but with so much tenderness in her voice that it's hard not to imagine she might feel otherwise. (The fact that Wright dedicates the record to a woman who lost her battle with lupus offers a little insight.) Cello-accompanied numbers ("Surly Demise," "Bells") would pass for uplifting if you ignored lyrics like "throw the matches upon my bed" and concentrated on their gorgeous arrangements. Taken in its entirety, though, one thing remains painfully obvious after listening to this disc: Someone needs a hug.

 
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