Local singer-songwriters/musicians Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith recently combined their considerable individual talents to record a collection: Bring It On Home. These are time-tested songs, songs from the American songbook covering decades. And, in some cases, nearly a century: "You Are My Sunshine" and "Moonglow" date back to the '30s.
The album kicks off with the steamy, longing-saturated, achingly romantic "Bring It On Home To Me" by Sam Cooke. From the first notes, from the low, deep groove of the baseline and the bright jabs of organ and guitar, the chemistry between Whitworth and Barrett is so palpable it's hard to imagine that they're not singing this song to each other (note: the two musicians are posed, on their album cover, on a rumpled bed). They're not in a romantic relationship.
But that song — definitely a stand out on the 12-song record — was a good choice for a namesake. It's also a star-studded track, with Jeff Sipe on drums and Michael Libramento on guitar.
Other contributors to the album include Mike Ashworth (bass, keys, drums), Justin Ray (trumpet), Melissa Hyman (cello), Nicky Sanders (violin), Nate Leath (violin) and Jacob Rodriguez (saxophone).
"Moonglow" is period-perfect, a sighing, swinging, slow-motion work of cinematic sparkle. Ray's trumpet sets a glamorous tone and Whitworth and Smith's voices, evenly matched, float in and out of the verses.
"I Get Ideas (When We Are Dancing)" performed, famously, by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, follows several tracks later, but shares a retro, culled-from-a-period-film sensibility. It opens with just Whitworth's vocal, low and rich, against a backdrop of strummed guitar. When the steel guitar and trumpet come in, the songs really takes off. It's easy to imagine Whitworth as a torch singer in some jazz club a half-century ago.
But, while the songs on Bring are decidedly 20th century, Whitworth and Smith don't remain in the vintage haze of Cooke and Sinatra. James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes" is given a gentle update. Hyman's cello is a key player here, crafting a mood so mellow it's almost melancholy. In a good way. The song breathes. Smith adds the softest harmony vocal and Whitworth takes her time, easing into the sweet spots of the minor key notes that make the song so poignant. Watch a video performance of that song:
Smith sings lead on Paul Simon's "Duncan," his voice close to the mic and full of unblinking emotion. Simon is a storyteller and a wordsmith, but the gorgeous arrangement of strings elevates the tribute. And that sort of care — nothing is over sung, every aspect of the song is given absolute attention to detail — is applied to each track on Bring.
The deliberate dolefulness of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on the Wire," while true to the mood of that song, is the one place where the album drags. Fans of the song might not agree, and both the strings and Smith's vocal, especially in its upper octave, are lovely. But since that particular song is so well known, the darkness of the cover is almost overwhelming.
On the other hand, Van Morrison's "I'll Be Your Lover, Too" — another romance-noir — is performed with a deliciously slow build. Here, Nate Leath's violin comes in early, cracking the darkness with sweeping melody, and Smith does a nice job of capturing Van Morrison's unhurried-yet-unbridled passion. The song plays out like a cool water plunge, like a kite leaping skyward, like a shooting star.
From start to finish, Bring is crafted with love. It's apparent that it's more than just a covers album: These are songs that are ingrained in Whitworth and Smith as artists. These are formative inspirations; songs to which they wanted to remake in a way that felt both reverential and honest. And they accomplish that task, while also giving their listeners a timeless collection.
Read more articles in:A + E