The return of Shannon Worrell

Shannon Worrell, an artist whom I developed a serious musical crush on in Charlottesville in the early ’90s, is recording again after an eight year hiatus and has a new album, The Honey Guide, coming out later this year. This is big news; her last album, released after the breakup of her band September 67, came out in 2000 into a critical vacuum. I liked The Moviegoer but it was too polished for my taste, and her new song (“Driving in the Dark”) has an edge to it that brings back what I liked best about Shannon, the honeyed whiskey voice and sharp eye and lyrical left hook that combined for an unsettlingly brilliant listen.

I had a perpetual cold and perpetual insomnia during my third and fourth year, the spring and summer and fall of 1993, and so used to hang out in a long-forgotten Charlottesville restaurant called the Corner Grill Main Street Grill. It didn’t do nearly the sort of business it needed to pay the rent on its fairly large footprint, which included a spacious upstairs room with a small stage, and it folded in late 1993. But my insomnia loved the coffee there, and my cold was nourished by the grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken soup. And the joint drew the kind of musicians that Charlottesville seemed to create out of the mud: Greg Howard and Tim Reynolds (playing as Sticks and Stones), Boyd Tinsley one memorable night (I dragged my fellow physics interns in the REU program there; he was guesting with Sticks and Stones, and it was a wild improvised set. I ended up peeing next to him in the tiny bathroom, shrinking from his immense height), and Shannon.

The first time I ever saw her, she played a solo set, her and an acoustic, then called up Kristin Asbury to do harmonies. I knew of Kristin from her work in one of the UVA a cappella groups (she was a Sil’hooette, I think) and somehow I felt that I was on stage with them. It was a weird out of body sort of moment that was reinforced by the wonderful Southern gothic strangeness of the songs.

Zalm and I saw her later that summer in another mostly solo show (I think that both Fred Boyce and the cellist who played on Three Wishes were there). There were quite a few funny notes about the songs on the first album, including one about an elderly couple who misheard the lyrics to “Witness” and thanked her very solemnly for her willingness to share personal details. It was a pretty incredible show. The CD came out the next spring; I embedded its tracks in mix tapes and spent the summer singing along to it, stretching out my high range for the first time. (I think that’s a big part of the reason that Reilly Lewis of the Cathedral Choral Society thought I was a first tenor.)

I next ran across her in Tower Records in 1997, when I found the September 67 release. We were both going places: I was doing well professionally, and she had signed a deal with the Enclave and was on the Lilith Fair tour. I played the crap out of Lucky Shoe, again putting it in mixes and sending it to friends. But not all good things last, and September 67 was dropped when EMI/Virgin merger went down. Her last record, The Moviegoer, crossed my path when I was just starting business school and it didn’t make as deep an impression. Then… silence for eight years.

So I’m pretty excited, obviously, about the new record, which is due in October. Along the way I noticed that Shannon didn’t have a Wikipedia entry, so I wrote one.

6 thoughts on “The return of Shannon Worrell”

  1. Unexpectedly wonderful news.

    I was similarly smitten back in those days.

    I remember that she played at the release party for DMB’s Under the Table and Dreaming, with Dave joining her for “Eleanor” and “Not Athena.” I bumped into her after the set and got her to sign a Three Wishes promo card. She signed it “I hope you’re as happy as I am tonight.” Which was much more comprehensible than Dave’s scrawl on the UTTAD liner notes: “No. 2 on my head donut.”

    I also managed to see her in 1995 at Northwestern University, as I was taking the second semester of my second year off at home. She gave me a quizzical smile from the stage and talking to her afterwards, I got a “what are you doing here?”

    But without a doubt my favorite Shannon Worrell moment came at a show at TRAX/Crossroads. Ben Folds Five opened for her (it was before their debut album, so it’s not as absurd as you might think). For the encore, Shannon and Kristen were joined by surprise guest Dave Matthews and Ben Folds for — I promise you this happened — “We Are the World.” One of the funniest damn things I’ve seen on stage, particularly Dave’s Dylan impersonation.

    As I’ve been digging through things in preparation for our move, I’ve come across a couple of Shannon Worrell/Monsoon live tapes, including a Prism Coffeehouse show or two. If I ever find the time to digitize them, I’ll be sure to let you know.

    It’s nice to have something new to look forward to. Thanks for the heads up and for bringing back a number of fun memories.

  2. Oh to have a copy of the Shannon/Kristin/Dave/Ben We Are The World. I can guarantee that’s one bootleg that will never appear.

    You’ve inspired me. I’m going to ping Shannon and see if there’s any chance of a digital release of some odds and ends from the past, like “Lighthouse” off her s/t four-song cassette release, or even “Steve Malkmus is a F…ing Snob.”

  3. Hey Jarrett– i did a bad bad thing. I googled myself but (just to figure out how to sell my new cd – i swear). So in all the trash and dead news, I found the tiny heartbeat of your wikipedia entry 4 me. Thank you. And this discussion. I had totally completely (sadly) forgotten doing We Are the World with Ben and Dave. That makes me laugh. So…just wanted to say hi and thanks. I would be glad to send you the new CD if you want to email me your address. Warmly, SW

  4. Wow…just discovering (and jumping onto) this thread. 3 years late. I guess better late than never.

    I have been a fan of Shannon’s music for many years. I’ve got the Aware 2 tracks, Three Wishes, Lucky Shoe, the Kristin Asbury EP, and the What’s Wrong With Alice? EP all imported into my iTunes and synchronized with every device I own. Incidentally, the Alice EP has “Steve Malkmus is a Fucking Snob (Live)”.

    The thing that I’ve been jonesing for lately is “Lighthouse.” I have a very old .ra file on my computer (Real Audio) and for whatever reason it won’t open anymore. It’s tragic, really.

    Every now and again I revisit the file, as if it has somehow magically repaired itself and will once again bring musical candy to my ears. I’m always disappointed – that file is like a big middle finger.

    If anyone knows where to find this rarity… this little gem of a song… please post!

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