Thursday, June 11
“7th Direction” is an impressive debut EP from The Shift, a New York-based trio whose show at Jack Rabbits this Thursday comes at the end of their first-ever swing through the Sunshine State, amidst a tour that’s taking them from coast to coast. “The tour has been great,” says lead singer/guitarist John Shannon, writing in from the road. “Our starter went out on our van the other day in Alabama but luckily there was a bowling alley with a bar across the street from the mechanic.”
I’ve known Mr. Shannon for nearly a decade, having met through mutual friends at his old Brooklyn loft back in 2006. Our party watched “An Inconvenient Truth” at the Sunshine Theatre one night, with Questlove’s afro partially blocking the view. I first saw him perform a couple nights later, at Manhattan’s venerable Jazz Gallery, playing guitar in the sextet backing ace cellist Dana Leong; it remains one of the ten best jazz sets I’ve ever witnessed, anywhere. He was then leading his jazz group Waking Vision Trio, which put out a couple of excellent albums a decade ago.
From that first initial meeting through the week spent pacing the circles he runs in, he made an immediate and impactful impression on me, not just as a person, but as one of the most prodigious musical talents in a dense, dynamic scene that was then just beginning to be branded as the borough we know and love (and kind of envy) today. His current group, which includes bassist Ben Geis and drummer MJ Lambert, is his newest and most polished vehicle on a musical journey that has already taken him around the country, more than once.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1980, John Shannon’s released three albums under his own name: “American Mystic” (2008), “Songs of the Desert River” (2010) and “Time Was A Lie” (2012). Critics have compared his work to masters like Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and Paul Simon; the albums have earned praise in places like Rolling Stone, Minor 7th and Time Out NY. His credits include sideman work with Bob Reynolds, Ben Harper, John Mayer, James Maddox, Lauryn Hill and Hiromi Urehara; he’s also recorded with Gary Go and Sonya Kitchell, whom he also backed on tour, as well as composed music for the FX show “Louie”.
In many ways, The Shift represents the present culmination of careers cultivated throughout the 21st century, a syncretic smash-up of the members’ traditional training, processed through years of long nights working club gigs in one of the most competitive commercial markets in the world. The album was recorded in less than a week, using a mixing board in Brooklyn that had once been used by George Martin to record the Beatles. Shannon writes the lyrics, while his colleagues build the music together.
The New York of their generation is simply not a place where you can last for long unless you’re good, and all three have put in practically a decade, ample time earn the confidence that comes through so clearly on the album. Shannon’s voice evokes nothing so much as mid-70s Robert Plant, while the clean, crisp tonality of the instruments gives it a prog-rock flavor, with the kind of tight, dextrous articulation that one would expect from three alumni of the Berklee School of Music—a school so prestigious that using the word “prestigious” to describe it is practically a cliché in music journalism. “It’s kind of a microcosm of the future music business when you’re there that seems to than move out into the real world—at least it has for me,” says Shannon, who randomly encounters fellow alumni on a regular basis in his travels.
“If you know you have something strong, unique and a band willing to persevere,” notes Shannon, “you end up in more of a relationship/competition with time than with other bands. If you can use that inevitable pressure involved in the process of getting recognized to be more creative, resourceful and alive, then you are already winning.”