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.