Shannen Nicole: ‘Captive’ Album Review

Shannen Nicole encapsulates the four elements in her performance on her new album Captive being released 7-7-15.  Throughout the album there is an earthy, grounded quality to her voice; rather than being a disembodied, ethereal sound, hers is clear but with rich timbre. When the strings come in during “Stay” it’s as if her voice comes in on the wind imploring her lover to stay with her. She brings fiery words of condemnation in “Wicked Lullaby.” Her voice flows on the smooth water of a melodic river in “Sensitive” and comes in crashing wave after wave of heartbreak in “She Knows It.” In other words, singer/songwriter Shannen Nicole brings it all, even a bit of a bluesy vibe to the ballad “Captive.”

One of the things I love about the opening track, “Clueless,” is that it establishes from the get-go that Ms. Nicole isn’t afraid to cross-boundaries and bend genres. This isn’t straight folk, it’s got some great beat woven throughout; it has some alternate rock elements in it. She is also a song writer who’s intimately aware of the power of beat, melody and timing. She’s not afraid to use silence as part of the overall sound. A rest isn’t a failure to keep moving, it’s a deliberate part of the design of the song. She is anything but clueless in putting a song together: “Waiting for the day, that you would say/You have a part of my heart/You look me in the eye, and tell me then, you tell me then/How you used to feel/I look you in the eye, and tell you then, tell me then/It was mutual.”

She captures well a sense of drifting apart in “He Told Me:” When you told me I remind you/He told me, my smile/Was the best he’s ever seen/That I lit up the sky/Like a Seattle night, ooh that melody/But things pass by, seasons change/People grow apart/Eyes will blink, smiles will cease/My heart will throb apart.”

In “Captive,” we feel the thumping captive heart of the lover with a somewhat bluesy overtone layered over the individual beats which is then released into a lyrical ballad of reflection in which we hear the plaintive cry of a love not (yet) requited. A similar kind of change up is presented in “She Knows It” where we start with a little piano introduction then the beat picks up when the guitar picks and drum sticks start flying with a jamming bit of piano riffs thrown in.

She exhibits a broad range of styles; on top of what we’ve heard in “Captive” and “She Knows It,” “Sensitive” gives us an homage to 50’s ballads, while “Lonely Heart” is pure alternative rock. Even when we think we know what’s coming is a quiet folk ballad in “Stay,” it wells up into a flowing, upbeat sound in the middle of the song riding on strings to bring it up. Her voice is sometimes reminiscent of Natalie Merchant while others of Sia, but she is wholly her own.

“Choices” is my favorite song of the album. It is the most mature, challenging writing with a recognition that our choices both haunt us and guide us in our path: “She said live to serve, and life will serve you/If you put others first you won’t be clouded by doubt/Nothing is weird simply different/Those words run through my head, they rung through my head like bees/Choices, choices, choices are haunting me/Choices, choices, choices are guiding me” She marries this to unrelenting piano notes that pursue us throughout the song while singing an overlapping melody and a final guitar counterpoint. It’s not just clever writing but authentic writing the does a beautiful job marrying lyrics to music.

The production of the album is fine, but, for my taste it is a little too bright. Its attempt of having an open sound stage simply sounds directionless to me, which also made the band seem a little less tight. (Some of that was the band, which got a little loose periodically but especially at the end of “She Knows It.”) It should be noted that I prefer a more intimate sound than some. All of this is a bit nitpicky, however, and none of it substantively detracts from Ms. Nicole’s singing or the overall sound.

Ms. Nicole deftly handles many styles of song, has a unique, refreshing voice and actually has something to say in her writing. I highly commend Captive for your listening pleasure.