Back Porch


"Northern Skies"

95 North

As you might expect of a CD dedicated to "the memory and spirit of Geronimo and the disenchanted hope of Hunter S. Thompson," alt-rocker Shannon McNally's new release isn't short on attitude. The title track, for starters, is a lacerating metaphor concerning struggle and betrayal: "You managed to take more than I had with your greedy treaties and rubber badge / You may have won the battle but you lost the war." Then there's the caustic "Miracle Mile," during which McNally appears on the verge of channeling Bob Dylan: "Everybody is shakin' for the cameras / Yeah, you're beautiful, but isn't there anything else to say / Uh like, how does it feel now?"

More often, though, McNally conjures soulful moods with her raspy voice as she moves from confessional ballads ("Sweet Forgiveness") and love-struck odes ("Pale Moon") to a pair of seemingly tailor-made tunes composed by Bobby Charles (the waltzing "Tennessee Blues") and Taj Mahal (the sweet-tempered album coda "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes"). A fine lyricist who often calls to mind Lucinda Williams, McNally comes up with more interesting tales than memorable melodies here. But several notable musicians, including guitarist and "Geronimo" producer Charlie Sexton, British keyboard vet Ian McLagan and lap steel guitarist Greg Leisz, help keep things interesting with colorful yet firmly rooted tracks.

Vermont-born singer-songwriter Todd Thibaud should be better known outside of New England by now. "Northern Skies," his fourth solo release, is consistently impressive, starting with the Jackson Browne-like anthem "Three Words." The album's focus shifts between hard and country-tinged rock, and though Thibaud doesn't break new ground, his sturdy songcraft and convincing vocals make for a potent combination. Another big plus stems from his evocative collaborations with fellow guitarist Adam Steinberg.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Thursday at Jammin' Java.