Twice before we have raved about recordings from Shannon and Heather Slaughter. The first was actually for Shannon’s solo album, The Sideman Steps Out, on which she was prominently featured, and the second, One More Road, their first duet album with their band, County Clare.
Since then, the Slaughters have welcomed a baby daughter into their lives, and clearly matured as singing partners as evidenced by their latest offering, Never Just A Song. Once again, we’re prepared to rave about this powerful new CD.
Shannon is that rare bluegrass triple threat: a gifted and disciplined songwriter, a robust and evocative singer, and a substantial guitarist, on both rhythm and lead. Most of our readers will be able to think of a few others who fit this description, but there are very few who excel to this level at all three. He earned his stripes as a sideman, first with Larry Stephenson, and later with Melonie Cannon and Lou Reid, before he and Heather started their own group, County Clare.
The band has survived a move from North Carolina to Alabama, closer to Heather’s family, and her new gig as a mom. Shannon is once again teaching history and coaching football, as he had done before the move.
Heather is also a steady vocalist, appearing as both a strong lead singer and a capable duet partner. Both she and Shannon’s voices are pitched in the lower register, allowing them to harmonize effectively around his rumbly, growling delivery, and present a distinctive sound all their own.
More than half the songs chosen are Shannon and/or Heather’s co-writes, with the bulk coming from such stellar writers as Tim Stafford, Hank Williams Jr, Pam Tillis, and Nick Forster.
The album starts with their debut single, a bluesy up-tempo version of Moonshiner, with Heather on lead, accentuated by Randy Kohrs’ reso-guitar and Ron Stewart’s fiddle. It’s followed by the title track, Stafford and Tillis’ tribute to the late Harley Allen, which gets a nod in the small world department. Not only it is a beautiful remembrance of the great singer and songwriter – who when he wrote, it was Never Just A Song – but it reminds us that All The Things You Do, Shannon’s own Allen tribute, was included on the most recent Blue Highway project.
Much of the Slaughter’s original music runs to the country/pop side of bluegrass, which you’ll hear on Back To Birmingham and The Best Thing We Ever Did, a pair of ballads that showcase the range and agility of both of their voices. The first is a lovely waltz about home, and the latter is an autobiographical picture of their relationship, ending with the birth of their daughter, Rae, who gets a vocal credit at the end of the song.
You also hear it on Where Does The Love Go, a thoughtful contemporary bluegrass song of the sort that Kenny & Amanda Smith, another guitar/vocal power duo, are known for recording. It really showcases Heather’s ability to deliver an understated vocal where the lyrics are paramount.
Shannon also has a knack for writing gritty, working class songs with his and David Carroll’s Company Town fitting the bill here with a coal mining story. It’s what Adam Steffey would call a “mean song,” mid-tempo and played in a pentatonic/modal scale.
Hot Rize has been back in the news with their extended reunion tour, and the Slaughters pay their respects with Shadows In My Room, a straight ahead bluegrass number from Heather with deep shades of lonesome from their 1986 Untold Stories album. Another strong cover is Hank Jr.’s Feelin Better from 1977, where Shannon channels him some Hank, and blows out those low pipes.
Heather demonstrates a knack for honky tonk country on Shannon and Terry Foust’s Whiskey Colored Dreams, complete with triple fiddle from Tim Crouch and steel guitar from Doug Jernigan. And Shannon turns in a fine, straightforward bluegrass burner on Ridin’ The Lightnin’, Ropin’ The Storm, one he wrote with Dale Felts.
Never Just A Song features 14 tracks of dynamic and energetic bluegrass, supported by a crack band. Trevor Watson and Justin Jenkins provide banjo, with Cliff Bailey and Tracy Burcham on bass, Ron Inscore on mandolin, and Shannon on guitar.
This one is a winner.