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Southern View: Shannon Whitworth

Singer-songwriter Shannon Whitworth comes by her Southern roots honestly, having called Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and now a farm in Brevard, North Carolina, home. Her voice evokes natural comparisons to icons like Patsy Cline, Julie London and Norah Jones, but perhaps what’s so magical about it is that it’s truly original, yet wonderfully familiar. Here, she talks about her new album, her musical influences and her affinity for the water.

What makes this new album, High Tide, so different from your other work? I recorded this album with my full touring band. The past few albums I recorded were mainly done with studio musicians. This album has a sound and vibe that I/we can recreate night after night on the road. Also, High Tide is an example of the direction I have been heading musically with new sounds, colors and textures.

You have folk roots. How does that show up in your most recent recordings? I do have folk roots; this record is still me and my songs. It just has a little different flavor. You can label music as Folk, Pop, Americana or whatever, but in the end, it is the artist and her musical journey. This is where I am at the moment. For example, in the live show I still love to pick up my banjo or ukulele for an acoustic song or two.

You made some different choices, production-wise, on this album than on your previous ones. Tell us about that and why. I worked with a new producer and old friend and musical partner Seth Kauffman of Floating Action. I think this album is more honest than any of my other albums. Everything flowed. Seth and (bassist) Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses brought a vibe to the record that had to be there. It was a magical process. We recorded everything live, for the most part.

How does being from the South influence your music? Is there a particular place that really inspires you? I spent all my summers with my grandmother in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. I currently live in the mountains of North Carolina, where I have been over the last 10 years or so. Living in all these different places in the South have influenced me in many different ways. For example, I grew up going to see music and acts like John Prine, Greg Brown and The Seldom Scene with my family at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. All those shows affected me to my core. My time in South Carolina with my grandmother exposed me to a house that was filled with the smooth sounds of jazz and torch crooners, from Dean Martin to Julie London. I remember being obsessed with my parents’ record collection. The way those albums sounded on the record player against the hardwood floors was like being in church. Also, we had my Grandmother’s piano, which was one of my favorite things to play after school. One brother had a banjo that I lusted over. One day I got my own and proceeded to learn clawhammer banjo. All along I was writing songs and drawing from experiences in the different places I have lived.

Are the musicians on the record the same ones you’ve been playing with for years? Why is that so important to the cohesiveness of the album? I have had a stable band for the past two years. These guys are like family. We truly love each other and enjoy making music together. We have developed a great communication on- and off-stage. I think having this level of deep friendship and respect enabled this project to sound the way it does.

There seems to be something about water that allures you. Your last album was called Water Bound. I live in a wonderful place where three rivers meet in the mountains of western North Carolina. Before that, I lived near the shore of a big lake also in western North Carolina. As a child, I grew up spending my summers at the coast, and my first job was working as a mate on a fishing boat. So, needless to say, water is a huge part of my life. I am drawn to it, have always lived near it and long to get back to it when I am away.


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