The Glenny Guide To… Shea Seger
Every self-respecting music geek worth his salt has a handful of semi-obscure albums that they like to whip out for friends when they really want to impress someone with the originality and diversity of their collection. There’s nothing more satisfying than being that very first person to introduce someone to something amazing and new. You know, to lead the bandwagon instead of jumping on it halfway through.
One of my personal favourite albums to introduce someone to is Shea Seger’s commercially ignored 2001 trip hop/blues/country/hip hop hybrid masterpiece The May Street Project. A wildly diverse collection of hooky tales of love and life after all linked together by Seger’s beautifully husky and edgy Texan drawl, it is both intoxicating and quite unlike anything you’d have heard in years. Produced by a then up and coming The Neptunes and co-captained by Lauren Hill (using a stupid alias), it was adventurous, tender and catchy as all heck.
Album opener and first single Last Time is an soaring piece of country-tinged jangly pop perfection. All the ingredients that make her music special are there from the get go – the knowing and defiant vocals, wryly observant lyrics and a chorus that lodges in the brain from the second you hear it. From there, the album veers all over the course in the most thrilling way possible.
Blind Situation is a mournful beats driven tale of regret and doubt setting a sexy country tinged vocal by Seger against hip hop beats and a guest rap by Pharrell. I Love You Too Much is trip-hop tinged piece of confessional guitar pop filled with great pop lyrics nuggests like “There’s a giant step between love and understanding, and baby I think you stopped at love.” which is officially a great line to open a verse with. The fact that it wasn’t number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for half a summer is just one of those pop injustices that will never make sense.
Ron Sexsmith pops up for the tender twilight blues of Always. Twisted is the kind of sunny but gritty mid-tempo pop rock that Alanis Morissette would give her newly born first born for – a confidently bitter and defiant break up number with everything from harmonicas to drum’n’bass propelling it along to a triumphant end. Can’t Lie is a rollicking bluesy guitar romp that leads into leading into the titular May Street, which is basically a sonic collage of everything that led to the making of the album.
Clutch is easily the album’s highlight. An arresting piece beats-driven pop that is one remix away from being a club smash, Seger never sounds more vunerable or sultry. Beguiling and affecting lyrics like “we count our feelings in yesterdays, is that how you keep your clutch baby?” spin around in a dizzying, hypnotic swirl. It’s the kind of song you could cry, dance, break up or fuck to, depending on ones mood, and that is nothing if not musically economical in times like these. Basically, it’s a mini-pop masterpiece.
If The May Street Project is starting to sound like a country girl going on an indie pop bender, it’s because it pretty much is. Seger grew up in a Trailer Park in Texas being reared on her Pop’s record collection which featured everything from Curtis Mayfield to Pink Floyd. At the tender age of 18, she moved out to London’s West End and started collaborating with a wide range of local underground musicians of varying genres and slowly produced a sound very much her own.
After garnering much critical acclaim, touring experience but no radio airplay or real commercial success, Seger pretty much just disappeared off the radar for the rest of the decade. My best friend and I literally spent the next nine years taking turns googling her name just hoping to find some, any, listing of anything she was doing. And then a few weeks ago finally, almost a full decade later, I discovered a self-titled album on iTunes.
Turns out, for the last decade, Seger fell in love, had a baby (Luna – which is one of the most adorable baby names I’ve heard to date, at least in what was at the time a pre-Harry Potter world). Then her father had a back surgery that went all kinds of wrong which resulted in her giving up on her record deal and moving back home to nurse him for the next six years.
2010’s self-titled release is a very different recording to The May Street Project. Gone is the hip hop and percussion-heavy production and in it’s place is raw, bleeding edges and anguished accounts of heartache, isolation and hard living. Careening wildly from bluesy honky-tonk rock to hushed confessionals, it’s a thing of anger and beauty. Basically, it’s the best album that Lucinda Williams or PJ Harvey never recorded. Seger’s way around writing a phrase is as keen as ever, but now the life experience behind it gives them a real emotional sucker punch the first album only hinted at. Her voice has evolved as well, raw and aggressive where it was once sultry and teasing. The pure, unadorned emotional outpouring on display is the most hypnotic and uncomfortable listening experience since Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, which is pretty much the highest praise you can give a singer songwriter in the world, ever.
The songs are phenomenal too. I’m still digesting the full album, but it’s a real experience. Pipers Dream knocks you over right out the gate, a rip-roaring, bleeding tale of a broken woman. Last Few Standing continues on with a tightly coiled rhythm shuffle like a snake getting ready to strike over some of the albums strongest lyrics, recounting a man that abandoned her. Halfway through, the pace drops and the album truly shines. Each song is literally more beautiful and heartbreaking than the last. Matter To Me is truly the album’s highlight. A sparse, intimate account of a days thoughts of a woman falling apart and putting herself back together again by taking stock of her life, it’s a six and half minute long masterpiece. The album’s closing track Bending Wood is like the musical equivalent of being baptized and reborn, the final thirty seconds make for one of the most hopeful and cleansing album endings in recent history. It’s a complete and utter musical catharsis that sends shivers down the spine.
You can listen to the new album in full here :-
Do yourself a favor and listen. And, you know, buy it. There are few artists out there today who truly make as honest and affecting music as Shea Seger. Hopefully, the next album won’t take another nine years..
The May Street Project – Clutch, Twisted, I Love You Too Much, Shatterwall
Shea Seger – Matter To Me, Pipers Dream, Last Few Standing, Bending Wood