Shannon Slaughter has consistently released quality music during his time on the national scene, from several years with the Lonesome River Band to more recent albums with wife Heather and his own band County Clare. His latest album, Never Standing Still, is billed as a solo effort (his second), and does well to showcase both Slaughter’s warm vocals and his original songwriting.
The album has already spawned a number one single, That Old County Road, a well-written, catchy ode to the easy-going country life. On his own records, Slaughter has often toed the line between modern traditional bluegrass and acoustic country, and this song – as well as most others on this album – is a great blend of the two sounds, with a strong ’90s vibe. Find Your Own Highway is encouraging and uplifting, with bright fiddle and mandolin. It’s sort of a response to rambling songs, with the speaker urging someone stuck at a crossroads in life to follow their own path, use their best judgement, and see where it leads them. On the other side of the coin is the gentle and melodic Going Home, which reminds listeners of the safety and warmth of home when you need it most.
A handful of Gospel songs are also enjoyable and well-written. Love is a Cross and Three Nails details a conversation between a mysterious old man in a church and a down-and-out man at the end of his rope. It puts several tenets of the Christian faith into simple yet powerful words: “The Spirit is a quiet strength within us, a hand that guides us every time we fail. Grace is a gift so undeserving, love is a cross and three nails.” Punchy, driving banjo opens up He Moved a Mountain, which topped the new Bluegrass Today Gospel chart earlier this year. It’s a darker-sounding song than most of the rest of the album, telling of a mountain man dedicated to saving souls.
Slaughter’s wife Heather (who sings harmony through much of the album) takes the lead on Dying to Live Again, an emotional story of life for a woman struggling to move on after losing her husband. It’s strong, melancholy country music. Shannon and Heather duet on Better Move it on Home, a sassy Porter and Dolly cover. Heather’s singing the part of a frustrated wife waiting on her husband to make it home (“I’ve been here cooking you a nice hot supper and you can’t even eat it on time, heatin’ up the meatloaf and stirrin’ up the gravy has kinda got to messin’ up my mind”) while Shannon takes the role of the husband who thought a few extra minutes at the bar wouldn’t hurt. It’s bluesy and spirited – definitely a fun addition to the album.
There are several other great covers here, including Jake Landers’s The Girl I Love (one of the album’s best tracks) and an in-your-face, banjo-heavy cut of Merle Haggard’s Movin’ On. Like many Haggard songs, this one adapts quite nicely to bluegrass. Though not a cover, Slaughter’s original Tryin’ to Be My Own Man could have been lifted straight from ’90s country radio (think Daryle Singletary). It’s country music, through and through, with piano and steel, and it’s excellent. I would be down for a whole album that sounded like this.
With Never Standing Still, Slaughter has offered up what’s probably his best album to date. I’ve always enjoyed Slaughter’s music, but he’s taken it to the next level here. His vocals are top-notch, and the material, with its country tinge and smooth melodies suit his vocal style well. Well-written songs and a bevy of supporting musicians including Randy Kohrs, Steve Gulley, Shawn Lane, Ron Stewart, and Tim Crouch, among several others, make this a project not to miss.
For more information on Shannon Slaughter, visit him online at www.shannonslaughter.com. His new album is available from several online music retailers.