Shannon LaBrie has just released her second album, War & Peace. Her debut made my Top Ten list as one of the best albums of 2013. Back then I was knocked out by LaBrie's songwriting skill and her sweet and soulful voice. As much as I thought of that debut, I find that I'm liking the new one even more. War & Peace had me at track one "It's Political". This song rocks, it's loaded with hooks, and the lead guitar work is so good that Justin Ostrander just became my new hero. Plus, it has lyrics that mean something. In this crazy election year where up is down and down is up, these words could not be more apropos.
It’s so ridiculous, So cynical
You must believe that we’re invisible
And we’ve got nothing to say
Every word is so predictable
Every promise you make
I want a prodigy
Someone honest with integrity
A fairytale in this democracy
I’m gonna move out west
Bury all my hope in Kansas
I’m talking bout a disconnect
Watch "It's Political"
Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes
Stream on Spotify
War & Peace is really a triumph of songwriting; all tracks were written or co-written by LaBrie. On this record she skillfully deals with some complex and sometimes traumatic issues, bearing her soul and expressing her feelings in these songs.
Tracklist: In her official bio, Shannon provides background and context as follows. Click each song title to listen.
1. It's Political - “Today’s politicians are in a game against each other, and I honestly don’t think they give a damn about the American people,” she says. “They are after a pot of gold, and in the end, we will have to pay for their greed.”
2. For You - “I got so caught up in what others expected of me that I lost sight of who I actually was,” LaBrie says. “I have to do what I believe is right, regardless of the backlash, both personally and professionally.”
3. Took My Whole Life - "LaBrie continues to explore love in the stirring rocker 'It Took My Whole Life'."
4. Heaven Crashed Down - "Labrie gives a visual account of the painful loss of her father, who died in hospice of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma when she was just 13. She sings, 'I hated everything but time; Especially those dark green stairs; They’d be the last stairs he’d ever climb; And the first stairs he’d ever come down dead.' 'In a way, it’s also a confession of losing a belief system,' she says. 'They’d say, He’s in heaven, and We rejoice with you. As a kid, those statements felt crueler than comforting. It was hard to process the slow decline of my dad physically and then finally watch him breathe his last breath.'"
5. American Dream - "LaBrie celebrates feeling thankful to live in a country that offers its citizens a life of endless possibility as a basic human right."
6. Crumble - "...addresses how consuming love can feel."
7. Alcohol (Acoustic Version) - “Addiction is an infectious disease that affects everyone around the addicted,” LaBrie says. “You don’t realize it when you are in the midst of it, but at some point, you find yourself addicted to the vicious cycle as much as the one addicted is to the substance. My addiction to trying to fix him was just as life-altering as his addiction to alcohol.”
8. Against a Wall - “Your ‘friends’ on the other end of the status line don’t have to look at your reality,” LaBrie says. “They only have to look at the ‘reality’ you chose to portray."
9. War & Peace - "Inspired by her boyfriend’s unwavering commitment to their relationship following the loss of their unborn son -- a tragedy that continues to shake Labrie’s heart to this day."
10. Ain't Just a Feeling - "The soulful 'Ain’t Just a Feelin’ captures the solace love provides."
11. Weight of Your Words - "She explores the impact of living with someone’s secret..."
12. Then There's You (feat. Gabe Dixon) - “By the end of the song,” LaBrie says, “you have lived a long life together and have come to a beautiful conclusion that ‘life’ and ‘love’ are just words. It’s the one you love who gives those words life and meaning.”
Labrie's soulful vocals are more appealing than ever. She, and her co-writers, have crafted an album that is chock full of melody. I am also loving the sound of the record, which is a credit to producer Tom Michael. That sound is also a credit to the musicians:
Shannon LaBrie - Lead Vocals, Electric Guitar, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Wurlitzer, Background Vocals
Matt King - Drums
Justin Ostrander - Lead Guitar
Timothy Charles Barrett - Bass
Tom Michael - Bass
Dave Alan - Organ
Kevin Terry - Cello
Matt Heller - Drums on tracks 9, 10
Shannon Hayden - Lead guitar, Cello, Mandolin, on tracks 9, 10
Kenny Childers - Acoustic Guitar and Background Vocals on tracks 9, 10
Gabe Dixon - Lead Vocal and Piano on track 12
The lead guitar throughout is most impressive. Before knowing who played it, I must admit that the name Mark Knopfler crossed my mind. I love the electric rhythm guitar too, the way it offsets the solos, and created nice texture especially in conjunction with the cello.
After being bowled over by the opening track, the pacing, arrangement, and sound of track two "For You" knocked me out again, indicating the expert production on War & Peace. Click track two above right now to listen and you'll hear how the organ and a most soulful guitar combine to maximum effect, which continues when the full band kicks in.
"Alcohol" is a remarkable track. The piano and cello provide a hauntingly beautiful melody, which frames LaBrie's most personal vocal in such a way that the serious tone of the lyrics is reflected in the music. And in some inspired sequencing, just when you've felt the intensity of "Alcohol", the next track, "Against a Wall", comes on to relieve the tension with some quality uptempo rock. My hat is off to producer Tom Michael.
In similar fashion, the emotional roller coaster that is War & Peace comes to a most delightful conclusion. You may not be expecting it, but "Then There's You" is a sweet love song that features Gabe Dixon, whose voice sounds excellent trading verses and duetting with LaBrie. Dixon also played on the track. Watch the video below.
Shannon LaBrie has avoided the sophomore slump and delivered an album that is as important as it is enjoyable. To have a record sound this good and actually be about something real is unusual in today's world where so much is disposable, even the music.
Watch "Then There's You"
Photos courtesy of Shannon LaBrie
Shannon LaBrie Website
Shannon LaBrie Facebook
Shannon LaBrie Twitter
Shannon LaBrie Instagram