"The purposes of a Boddhisattva and an artist are different and perhaps not reconcilable," wrote William S. Burroughs, challenging, "Show me a good Buddhist novelist." In a similar spirit -- pun intended -- I'd say "Show me a good new-age songwriter." The kinds of specificities and details, narrative and sonic tensions found in great songs seem at odds with a songwriter whose primary goal is communicating a vague sense of spiritual healing and well-being. Someone, in other words, like John Shannon.
According to his online Gaia Community profile, the singer-songwriter's sun sign is Cancer, and his Chinese sign is "metal monkey"; according to his press materials, he's also a Pittsburgh native. He has also just released his solo debut, American Mystic, following stints as a guitarist with the likes of Sonya Kitchell, Haale and others, and his instrumental group Waking Vision. The album is 10 songs of lovely fingerpicked acoustic guitar and Shannon's high, breathy vocals, supported occasionally with touches of droning upright bass, harmonized vocals, delay-drenched electric guitar and other instruments.
Stewart Mason, writing for All Music Guide, says that while American Mystic is "the sort of album one plays in close proximity to a warm bath and/or a pot of herbal tea ... there are far worse albums designed for that purpose." It's hardly a glowing recommendation, but he does favorably compare Shannon's music with Nick Drake and Tim Buckley.
For my two cents, listening to lyrics like "your heart is an ocean" and to songs about "Forgiveness," "Seasons," "Golden Eagle" and "Butterfly," seems to require putting part of your brain in park -- a part, for better or worse, that I'm rather fond of at the moment. But if you're interested in doing a little exploring -- musical, spiritual or both -- Shannon plays Club Café this Wed., May 28.
John Shannon with Colter Harper. 7:30 p.m. Wed., May 28 (6 p.m. doors). Club Café, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. $8. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com
- Paul Mpagi Sepuya
- Into the mystic: John Shannon