Artist: Shannon LaBrie
Album: War & Peace
Label: LaBrie Records
Release Date: 04/01/2016
Music serves many purposes to many people, and no one completely agrees on what it should do, but there are few things that are pretty universal. Among them is this – music should say something. Now, exactly what it should say is up for grabs, and is decided by the person making it. But, it should be something– current times, philosophical truths, human nature, or even the artist himself/herself. A discerning mind can always tell music of substance from mindless drivel.
So that – music saying something – is the minimum requirement, the C grade in school. Even to the strictest teacher, Shannon LaBrie gets in the A range, maybe an A+. Listening to her music is like touching an exposed nerve or putting your finger in a wound. She invites you to see, to feel, to look unblinking at honest, sometimes brutal truth. All her Instagram photos have the #NoFilter hashtag.
The reason she gets an A+ is because she goes above and beyond on her sophomore album War & Peace to make her music artful and beautiful as well as truthful and honest. She sings nakedly of her father’s death in “Heaven Crashed Down,” the simultaneous strength and weakness in people in “Crumble,” the painful struggle to love a self-destructive person in “Alcohol,” and even the current political climate and its craziness in “It’s Political” and “American Dream.” And in these last two especially, she doesn’t give away the game by name-dropping or getting specific. Like I said, artful and beautiful.
It’s not a slam dunk, though. First off, LaBrie is working with certain sphere. While the bluesy female singer-songwriter motif (which she comes to completely naturally) enhances her “this is how it is” ethos, it also restricts her music to being heard by only those who have the patience for it. Some people just don’t like acoustic-driven blues-pop sung by a sweet and seductive siren. Go figure. Secondly, War & Peace actually contains a good amount of filler, particularly in the second half. It loses its way after the title track and becomes less hard-hitting and more bloodless. It caps off with “Then There’s You” in which she lilts like a lounge singer, betraying the gutsiness of the rest of the album. Considering that War & Peace comes after a previous album and three EPs, one would think it’d be less uneven.
All in all, Shannon LaBrie has the best of intentions, a good amount of craft, and a few moments of musical brilliance. While that’s not quite enough, War & Peace is a hopeful indication of what might be to come from a songwriter of such nerve and poise.
– Neal Paradise