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Summer of the Whore

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Album Review

Summer of the Whore is singer and songwriter Shannon McArdle's debut solo effort after the demise of the Mendoza Line and her messy marriage to ML's Timothy Bracy. That said, you already know what the album is about, something McArdle and her label, Bar None, play up in her press materials. (Indeed, a sticker on the front of the jewel case proclaims: "The Mendoza Line's former singer steps out and doesn't hold her feelings back.") In other words, this is a nakedly (no pun intended) confessional — and sometimes vengeful — record that covers the stages from the pain of the initial breakup through anger, depression, terror, rebound, lust, and something akin to redemption. Fair enough. She's made the transition from indie-flavored country music to a kind of washed-out indie rock; it's full of her small-voiced wordy lines and overly long songs that in their quiet way bludgeon the listener with the point of every song. That said, this blend of violins, modern sound effects, whispering cymbals, snares, and wispy guitars (both electric and acoustic) offers a significant departure — but at the same time, hearing her own songs becoming more prominent on the Mendoza Line's last few recordings, it's an expected one. Some of the album's best tracks are "Poison My Cup" (which has pronounced drums, breezy electric guitars, and a multi-textured ambient backdrop), "Paint the Walls" (which could have been written and sung by Lucinda Williams if she were a pop singer), and the gloomy title track (which evokes the slow droning electric guitars of Crazy Horse while allowing McArdle's acoustic to guide the lyric to its searing revelation).

There isn't anything here that feels inconsequential, unpleasant, or even drab. It's an attempt — a brave and perhaps misguided one — for McArdle to establish herself as a songwriter of import. The music supports that notion completely, but it and the album's title would have been enough to make listeners sit up and take notice. As it is, with the rather brash marketing technique by the artist and her label, the back-story sticks out more than the songs — and that's a shame, but there is great material here. And even if it is a tad long overall, the listener gets the impression this set couldn't have been any shorter. These are songs McArdle really needed to get out of her system — check the beautiful "He Was Gone" near the end of the disc, where she lets her voice out of its cage to really sing and the effect is bracing, even shocking, as if she's trying to break out of the song cycle itself, attempting to reassure herself she's OK, so she could truly move on. In other words, while this is a fine enough recording in its own right, the next one will be the true test of McArdle's mettle as a singer/songwriter — there is evidence that this will happen in the glorious (if desperate) uptempo but dreamy pop song "This Longing." With its ringing electric guitars, beautifully layered textural spaces, gentle hooks, and cracking snare drum, this is the other side of stasis, a place where suffering and the will to liberation are balanced and strident. In other words, the sound of a struggle is in play, and one can hear it in the seamless tenderness at the center of her voice. That said, here's looking forward to what comes next.

Biography

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Shannon McArdle first entered the music scene when she joined the indie pop group Mendoza Line in 1998. After moving to New York City with bandmates Pete Hoffman and Timothy Bracy (who introduced her to songwriting via a gifted guitar), she contributed several of her first compositions to the group's 2000 album, We're All in This Alone. McArdle would continue to lend her talents to Mendoza Line, but by 2004 her relationship with Bracy had become both professional and romantic in nature. The duo embarked...
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Summer of the Whore, Shannon McArdle
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