London is a long way from the hot Gulf winds that sweep across the Texas plains. Yet there’s plenty of prairie fire in every beat of Shea Seger’s luminous RCA premiere album The May Street Project. The Fort Worth native has been living in England for the last two years, and she readily admits that getting some distance from her past helped her to better understand it. Indeed, The May Street Project stands as a confessional, soulful debut, heralding the arrival of an uncommonly gifted singer/songwriter.
While fans and critics will surely praise Shea’s engaging style, she herself dubs her approach “mutt dog blues with beats.” One can hear in her music many diverse echoes – from Janis Joplin and Rickie Lee Jones to De La Soul and Arrested Development – but like any true artist, Shea Seger emulates no one but herself. Produced by Martin Terefe and mixed by Commissioner Gordon (Lauren Hill), The May Street Project was largely composed by Shea along with songwriting partner Nick Whitecross. “This album embodies the spirit of a memoir,” notes the 21-year-old Shea (sounds like Sashay). “My life has been a real roller coaster ride, and that’s the theme running through the album.”
Named for the suburban Ft. Worth street she lived on during her early childhood, The May Street Project blends scruffy soul with contempo-pop rhythms, all anchored by Shea’s disarmingly emotional vocals. The album kicks off with Last Time, a quirky mid-tempo gem about waking up to a dirty dawn and a foundering flirtation. In Clutch, dance rhythms percolate upwards as Shea sings with piercing honesty. The acoustic-driven Blind Situation features guest rapper (Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes), while Shatterwall boasts African undercurrents in an unsparing look at society’s epidemic of disconnection.
I Love You Too Much is a slow burning goodbye letter, while Walk On Rainbows offers a hint of Texas country, subverted by an irreverent Mardi Gras beat. British cult favorite Ron Sexsmith teams up with Shea on the inspired ballad duet Always, while tracks like the percussive Twisted, Isn’t It Good Tonight, and the sweet-spirited Can’t Lie showcase Shea’s inerrant pop instincts. The heavy soul of Wasting The Rain makes it a stand-out track, while the album’s closer May Street- written and recorded live in one take – gently unfolds a blossom of memories, peculiar to Shea perhaps, but made universal in her skilled artisan’s hands.
Those skills were honed early in Shea Seger’s life. Born to music and art loving parents, Shea spent her earliest years on Ft. Worth’s May Street before moving to Quitman, TX, a small town 100 miles east of Dallas. Recalls Shea, “I knew all my life I was going to do music. I just didn’t know when or how.” Though she was exposed to all sorts of rock, blues and classical music, she found herself most strongly drawn to theater. When the family relocated to Virginia Beach, VA, Shea attended a theater arts high school and started performing regularly in stage productions, becoming as adept in acting as in singing.
Despite excelling in theater, the teenage Shea felt something amiss, “In theater you play a character created by someone else,” she notes. “Now, as a solo artist, singer-songwriter, I am myself. What I do is more honest.” In 1998, Shea moved to London, with no more concrete a game plan than to see the world and try writing some songs. As her network continued to grow, the songs flowed and the demos kicked proverbial ass, it wasn’t long before record companies came calling, and in January 2000 RCA sealed the deal. “It did happen quickly,’ says Shea, “but organically; not rushed, not canned, with no set script.”
As for the making of the new album, Shea couldn’t have asked for a more supportive environment. “We had a great time doing it,” she recalls. “You want to find people who can tap into what you’re going balance things out, and, most importantly, be real. That’s what I had.” With the album already released in the U.K, and now due for U.S. release in early 2001, Shea’s latest space odyssey is about to begin. Shea’s already has under her belt an U.K. tour opening for James, and she’s looking forward to more.
Whether she plays for 100,000 or 100 for Shea Seger the point is always about touching her listeners one at a time. “My songs are simply honest stories,” she says. “And I just tell them the way I see them.”