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Jason Shannon releases debut album, becomes nomad

Jason Shannon CD Release Show

Varsity Theater, January 9

Review by Erin Roof

Photos by Jon Behm

Jason Shannon is a touch too honest.

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"I moved into my practice space," he tells me, perched in a corner of The Varsity's maze-like basement.

"Isn't that illegal?" I ask. "Should I . . . not print that?" Normally I wouldn't bother asking about printing sordid details, but Shannon is too nice of a guy to screw with.

"It's OK," he says. "The owners like me."

Jason Shannon at his CD release show. Photo by Jon Behm.

"Where do you take showers?" It's a valid question.

"I joined the Y. I took a shower there earlier today," he says matter-of-factly. "I've got to figure out how to make it work."

Tonight is Shannon's CD release party. To finance this album he sold guitars and amps, went into colossal debt and gave up some of the basic necessities people who don't live and breathe music tend to enjoy. Though, Shannon assures, his practice space is reasonably comfortable.

Shannon's handiwork is drenched on his self-titled solo debut. He produced it himself, sometimes working 12 hours straight mixing and mastering. He even muted the noise of fingers sliding on bass strings. No one would notice it, but he knew it was there, and spending nearly all of 2008 crafting it, he wanted perfection.

Shannon comes remarkably close to his goal. "Sleep Tonight" swells with gooey romance. "Maybe Mexico" rambles with luscious twang. "Mighty Mighty River" and "Mister Miracle Mile" are woozy doozies, complete with Paul Odegaard's squawking, plunger-muted trumpet playing. This is the most raucous moment of his record, with Shannon screaming like some ungodly animal and letting loose his Southern roots with gravelly blues vocals. Throughout, the album is properly embellished but fails to feel overdone.

Shannon's violinist Wendy Tangen-Foster. Photo by Jon Behm.

None of this changes the fact that Shannon's collection of musicians will likely always be a live band. His command over his band is obvious, probably the result of many pep talks about adhering to his perfectionism. The result is a powerhouse of rootsy, blues-dosed rock and roll that is the cities' best backing band this side of Maria Isa. Shannon, himself, seems best translated in person. Something happens to him when he gets under the lights. Sparks circulate in his body and suddenly the veins in his neck begin to bulge, a poor attempt of his flesh to restrain his rush of emotion.

"Just a year ago I was playing for two people in a local Dunn Brothers," he admits to the audience. Tonight The Varsity is packed tight. Shannon, in his fedora, suit and tie, visually blends with the theater's air of elegance. But, he would sound best in a basement club with bare light bulbs--being the ringleader of some grimy secret from another age. Considering his blossoming local popularity, it seems unlikely he will retreat into this alluring obscurity any time soon.

After a fanatical crescendo, Shannon raises his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his forehead. He says he hopes this album will help him see Europe from bus windows. One thing is certain; he will always be a working man.

--Erin Roof

Additional photos from the show, by Jon Behm: Jason Shannon (top two), and openers Molly Maher, Erik Koskinen, and Peter Pisano from the Wars of 1812.