I’m listening now and it’s pretty wonderful. I’d listen to her sing the phone book, I think–her voice is that mesmerizing–and it’s nice to hear the voice again. The rest of it is deceptive. There’s more open space in the arrangements–quite a few of her old tunes were all vocal, all the time, and the very first track features an extended instrumental break–but there are more musicians in her band, I think, than ever before. It sounds like country, but that’s mostly the pedal steel–there are the same tight sinews underneath that powered her September 67 songs. And then there are the songs that are out of a different tradition: the echo, shuffling drums, and organ of “If I Can Make You Cry” feel like they came from somewhere unstuck in time near Louisiana. “Sweet Like You” is intimate and dreamlike.
But the lyrics. As always, Shannon’s songs are drenched in images, but where on Three Wishes she was tapping Greek myth and children’s TV, here the songs are swaddled in something simultaneously more personal and a little closer to Greil Marcus’s “old weird America.” The narrator of “Sweet Like You” wants to set her love floating down the James River. Kitchen tables rise and fly. Giant stars are removed from mountaintops. And lovers call from countryside bars because the bartender took their keys.
The Honey Guide is better than a note from an old friend: it’s a letter from a strange place. In its deepest waters it feels like a warmer version of Neko Case’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood; in other places it feels like afternoon by a fire. Highly recommended.