Released on Tis Rock Music on 2nd Aug 2021
Chantel McGregor describes The Shed Sessions Volume 1 & 2 thus: ”A selection of songs that I’ve played on the live streams, some of the requests people have asked for, and a few that I just love!”
It was recorded in the bedroom using a wardrobe for a vocal booth and mixed and mastered by Wayne Proctor.
The result is arguably one of the best stop-gap album releases in recent times.
I say stop-gap, because apart from being shaped by the lockdown, it represents her first album since 2019’s ‘Bury’d Alive’, and 6 years since her last studio album called ‘Lose Control.’
It’s forged by an inquiring musical mind, and it’s beautifully realized via a consistent sonic presence and a fluid playing style that conjoins different musical genres.
‘Shed Sessions Volume One’ is acoustic guitar-led material, while ‘Volume Two’ is based round electric guitar flourishes and Jamie Brooks piano which breathe fresh life into some classic covers and stripped down self penned songs.
You could call this a cross over album that takes in singer-songwriter material, prog, rock, blues and folk. The double album stretches an acoustic into electric set and showcases a classy musician fired by unfettered creativity and a bluesy heart.
And it’s that consistent emotional connection that gives the album its coherence.
If you find it hard to overcome “cover material fatigue” you may be pleasantly surprised by this 2 set album of fan requested songs. Chantel ultimately triumphs because of a deep feeling for the material she plays.
And while her impeccable acoustic and electric guitar playing always primarily support the songs, it’s her intuitive vocal phrasing, timing and at time breathy emotive timbre that draws the listener in.
She’s arguably best when evoking the lyrical imagery of Jewels ‘Morning Song’ – delivering the; “Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin” line, as if living the part, while her clear diction and evocative phrasing bring a new dimension to Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’.
Perhaps her biggest challenge on ‘Volume One’ is tackling the brace of Bonnie Rait covers. She digs deep to uncover soulful and sensual abilities on ‘Love Has No Pride’ and ‘I Cant Make You Love Me’.
She also makes a good account of Neil Young’s opening ‘Needle & The Damage Done’, even though she’s self evidently divorced from the song’s lyrics in terms of experience and time span.
She’s also adds a lovely introductory riff and close to the mic phrasing on Young’s acoustic ‘Harvest Moon’, as her deft acoustic and warm vocal gives her the ability to get inside both songs
Her version of Winwood’s ‘Cant Find My Way Home’ is about the 5th I’ve counted in the last 12 months, but again she triumphs by stripping it down to the bones, letting her voice and acoustic ring into the ether.
In sharp contract the inclusion of Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ is arguably a mistake, as despite her energetic percussive acoustic attack, her almost conversational vocal is out of step with a song that should breathe voodoo mysticism and wonder.
She’s far happier talking on the kind of Stevie Nicks material that will be familiar fare for her fans, while her version of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’ is a shining example of what she’s capable of, both in terms of her interpretive abilities and guitar playing abilities abilities abilities.
Volume 2’s play list looks to be less essential and more randomly connected with her own musical persona, but again she surprising us by gluing everything together with her own musical vision, particularly so on Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, which she turns into something special (pun intended).
Jamie Brooks’s lingering piano lines and Chantel’s warm vocal on Jewel’s ballad ‘Foolish Games’ evoke the feel of unrequited love perfectly, while the slow building piano synth and belated anthemic solo stick of Steven Wilson’s ghostly ‘Driving Home’ reaches for an intense electric guitar resolution .
Her own ‘Walk on Land’ is the equal of either of her Wilson covers and gives us some indication of her own song writing abilities and proggy musical vision.
The opening volume swells and chiming guitar of ‘April’ leads her into a beautifully crafted piece, cushioned by piano and synth and a solo of pure expression.
It’s juxtaposed by the beautifully poised version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ on her voice moves from reflection to outright exhilaration as she swoops into the clouds.
Everything is perfectly book-ended by her second Wilson cover ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’, on which a combination of subtle echoed guitar, synth and piano gently evoke the yearning at the heart of the song
In this age of isolation overload, The Shed sessions are a timely reminder of the highest musical standards inspired by a need to connect. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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