Four years since her last album "War & Peace", Shannon LaBrie has returned with "Building" an album that delivers on all levels, with the scope of its vision and the palette of it's sound, to provide a record very much needed for our times
The album opens with "Firewalker" -Firewalking is the act of walking barefoot over a bed of hot embers or stones, it's often seen as a test of an individual's strength and courage, or in religion as a test of one's faith - and is viscerally captured by Shannon in the opening a capella section of the song:
"Inch by inch, crawling,
Embers and ashes falling
Blanket of smoke is covering up my sky"
The metaphor of firewalking is used to describe the challenges of life and that inner strength that can be summoned to help us survive the worst experiences of our lives. Written at a time when tornadoes had ripped through Nashville, the song has gained a new prescience with the current Covid crisis. In an age where songs are habitually overproduced, there is very little in the way of instrumentation initially other than a drumbeat and an electric guitar as Shannon tells how this current test of faith was not something sought.
"I did not set out to know
To feel the heat of the coals
Did not intend to burn holes
Through the soles of my shoes"
An organ joins the mix as the chorus is defiantly sung out, against a supporting backdrop of backing vocals. It is undoubtedly a song designed to empower people and bring hope, but it does acknowledge that this does not come easy "I face the flames, I bear the heat, takes all I got sometimes to put down my feet"
Shannon's vocals have that swagger and bravado of someone ready to face whatever challenges lie ahead and it lays down a gauntlet for the rest of the album to live up to.
"Raining Hallelujah" co written with Tia Sillers, is another song offering hope, but first it lays down the negatives in a most poetic fashion
"Regret is a howling wolf crying fool you're not worth saving
Sadness is the weight of stones pulling me down deep waters calling
Grief is a candle blown, nothing to see once twilights faded".
The chorus is spiritually uplifting, helped by the addition of a choir. If the first verse dealt with negative then the second is a joyful riposte
"Joy is a crashing wave a laughing child a gospel choir
Love is a lighting strike, straight to the heart, a death defier
Hope takes the feather high it spreads the wing makes us a flyer higher and higher"
Once again a fairly minimalist band manage to both rock out and keep the soulful vibe and most of all spread that message of hope " Above every storm, a cloudless sky is waiting for me and you"
The furious intensity of the opening tracks eventually gives wait to a gentle mainly acoustic track in the shape of "Angels Fall" but don't be fooled there is still lyrical power here,
"When the room gets still and I’m all alone and my tears start hitting the pillow
I feel someone that I used to know reaching out to hold me close reminding me to not lose hope"
The themes from the earlier songs are still there, hope and an incessant march forward, not being defined by past mistakes. Shannon's vocals this time round are softer and sweeter, and appreciative of her "guiding light", with the gentle percussion and guitar forming a perfect backdrop.
"The Things We Say" is a piano ballad solely written by Shannon, and it is a rare song in that you could literally quote from any line, it's that good.
Our tongues like barrels pointed at someone we take shots and wonder what went wrong
We’re all bullseyes we’re all taking aim we’re all hurt but no one takes the blame?"
It is absolutely the right song for this moment in history and with a jaw dropping vocal perfectly captured this is completely faultless.
The title track "Building" takes its inspiration from Shannon seeing an embracing couple, outside the wreck that was once their house, blown away by the Nashville tornado. That powerful image forms the centre of the song if not the whole record, moving forward even though its hard, taking each experience and building on it. Even though their house may have been destroyed their relationship still stands and is described in the same manner as one would use on a building.
"When you are the hammer I’ll be the nails When I am the chisel It never fails"
The last newly composed track of the record is "One In a Billion" a sort of cosmic pick me up, that takes an image of looking up at the night sky looking "To countless years of ancient light" and uses it as a reminder of just how special each person is, "One of a kind there’s nobody like you in this grand design". it's an uplifting message that every one can take something from.
The record signs off with a cover of Tom Petty's "It's Good To Be King", from his Wildflowers album, Shannon's version recorded simply with just one guitar and Shannon's exceptional vocal which goes from being quietly breathy to at times an almost soulful wail. It is all the more personal for being so stripped back and as the record signs off with a final strum of the guitar, there's a sort of arrogance that comes with the knowledge that you've produced a great piece of work.