McNally, Bonham deliver different takes on female folk music

Ben Breier

Credit: Beth Rankin

If female-laden quintet Eisley’s packing of the Grog Shop this Father’s Day is any indication, girl-powered folk music is on the rise. Admittedly, the music that we’re seeing now is a bit different than the ’90s scene of the past, driven by artists such as Jewel, Paula Cole and the Cranberries.

Tracy Bonham and Shannon McNally are two up-and-coming artists in the genre, but they’re screwing with the formula a little bit. Instead of relying on soft pop accelerated by acoustic guitar, Bonham delivers blues-influenced melodies backed by a touch of southern influence. McNally’s approach, however, contains more of a country-based vibe.

Bonham’s latest, Blink the Brightest, jolts you right off the bat with the album’s first track, “Something Beautiful.” The song manages to be deep and influential, with lyrics such as, “You cut me up / and you make me bleed / a sad stained heart hanging / on my sleeve,” which you typically wouldn’t find in radio-friendly pop songs.

Bonham’s blues roots really come through on “Dumbo Sun,” accompanied by piano and a sassiness that Joss Stone would murder someone to have. Sadly, this is where the variety ends. Excluding “Dumbo Sun,” very few tracks on Blink the Brightest truly contain any sort of variety. Delightfully spunky vocals gather into a crescendo that launches into a chorus. Blah, blah, blah … we’ve heard this all before. Bonham certainly does it well, but that’s certainly no excuse for being bland and stereotypical.

Bonham is a great singer-songwriter, previously showcased by her 1996 single “Mother Mother,” but the way her material streamlines itself on Blink the Brightest has you squirming for the end of the album about two-thirds of the way through.

With some of her best songs tacked onto the end of the album (”Did I Sleep Through It All?” contains a realistic, heartfelt accidental pregnancy story), it’s a shame Bonham couldn’t switch it up a little bit. Variety is the spice of life — and although Blink the Brightest is far away from being a bad album, it’s a long way from tier-one status.

Shannon McNally’s second album, Geronimo, is a different beast altogether.

Picture Sheryl Crow singing country-accented songs and pounding on a piano. The country edge that McNally exudes varies quite a bit on the album. On tracks like “Miracle Mile,” McNally practically throws you into a bad line-dancing session at the Dusty Armadillo. You can even feel the peanut shells crunch beneath your feet as McNally takes it down in the hillbilly chorus. McNally utters “bullshit” once in the song, and it’s almost as if she’s desperate for you to notice that she’s singing one of those naughty curse words that the hip kids are slinging these days.

“Pale Moon” is probably one of the least country-polluted songs on the album. Think Stevie Nicks being raised in Texas and voting Republican, and you’ve got a pretty spot-on idea of what McNally sounds like here. If more of the tracks were like this, and less like the admittedly horrible Sheryl Crow, Geronimo would be a much better album.

“Leave Your Bags By The Door” is one of the album’s more tolerable tracks, but even this song is unbelievable. You can constantly picture McNally looking over her shoulder for approval from her peers as she vocalizes all soft and scruffy-like.

Here, we’ve got two artists with different takes on their genre. Bonham, obviously the more talented of the two, hits you hard with bluesy vocals and meaningful melodies, while McNally sends you spiraling into thoughts of trailer parks and wife beaters. One of these approaches is correct, while the other is disastrous at best. If there’s a female folk-pop revolution somewhere in the future, Bonham will definitely be a part of it, while McNally will only hinder such efforts.

Contact general assignment reporter Ben Breier at [email protected].