The music of Shelley King draws from and blends a spectrum of roots music styles, but one word succinctly describes it: soulful. Be it R&B, folk, blues, country, bluegrass or rock — or combinations of and variations on those themes — she delivers the goods straight from the heart with a voice that’s splendidly rich and warm and as big as all outdoors. Writing “a proverbial trunk full of instant hits and yet-unheard classics,” as the Austin Chronicle describes her songs, King has risen from the vibrant music scene in the Texas capital city to charm fans across North America, Europe and Japan, win two Austin Music Awards, and be named the Texas State Musician for 2008.
And now she truly finds her sweet spot on her aptly titled new album Welcome Home. Recorded and co-produced with John Magnie, Tim Cook and Steve Amedée of The Subdudes — rated by All Music Guide as “stellar musicians of the swampy jazz-rock-blues New Orleans persuasion” — it’s a roots music tour de force where the spirit of the church meets the soul and spices of the South and the many moods and modes of the human heart.
From the opening and intoxicating sunshine of “Summer Wine,” Welcome Home travels the musical highways and byways below Mason-Dixon to echo the finest traditions and open new musical dimensions, thanks to a magical marriage of the multi-instrumental gifts and vocal blend of Magnie, Cook and Amedée with the splendorous humanity and emotiveness of King’s singing and songs. On tracks like the call and response of “I Remember,” the hymnal “Welcome Home” (written just after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans) and the prayerful “Grain of Sand,” King and company draw from the gospel oak to create spiritual sounds for the modern age. “Asking Too Much” and “It’s Starting To Rain” renew classic New Orleans R&B, and “I Can’t Make It Easy” is a swooning swamp pop slow dancer. The lilt of bluegrass meets the zest of Cajun music on “Everything’s All Right,” and King and company summon up a spirited fais do do with the boogie-woogie of “How You Make Me Feel” and swing of “Falling Fast” before closing out with the acapella and handclaps of “Welcome Home Reprise.” All told, Welcome Home is a listening experience sure to be treasured and relished by all it touches for years to come.
King’s voice first rang out at the age of four in a tiny rural one-room church in her native Arkansas and then bloomed further as she grew up singing in parishes large and small across her home state and Texas. Listening to her uncles sing and play songs on their acoustic guitars by Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash also instilled in her a sense of songwriting excellence from an early age. After working her way through college by starting and running her own business, King stepped onto the club and concert stage fronting bands in Houston before moving a few years later to Austin, the longtime noted nexus of roots music authenticity and innovation as well as superlative songwriting that proved to be a welcoming home for her talents.
She had been writing songs since her early teens, and in Austin her gifts found a place to bloom without the strictures of style or commercial concerns. “I just started writing for myself. I don’t care what kind of song it is — it might be bluegrass, it might be blues, it doesn’t matter — it’s whatever mood I’m in and whatever the song needs.”
After King gave a copy of her debut album Call Of My Heart to Toni Price, Austin’s beloved and long-reigning favorite female voice, Price recorded two of the tunes on it — the title track and “Who Needs Tears” — for her 2001 album, Midnight Pumpkin. Her version of “Call Of My Heart” went on the win Song of the Year at the Austin Music Awards, where in 2005 King and her group were also named Roots Music Band of the Year. Price recorded another King song, “Tennessee Whiskey” for her 2003 album Born to be Blue. Then after Lee Hazelwood heard King’s “Texas Blue Moon” on the radio during a drive through the Lone Star State, he and Nancy Sinatra cut the song for their album Nancy & Lee 3.
For her second album, The Highway, King traveled to the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama where icons like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and many others have tracked classic recordings. Her 2004 live album, Rockin’ the Dancehall, captured her dynamism as a performer at the famed Gruene Hall in Central Texas, and was declared “an exuberant breath of air” by the Austin Chronicle and named a Top Recording of the Year by Buddy magazine for its “excellent, high-energy country-rock-pop-blues-gospel-soul, delivered by a tight, experienced band.” King’s catalog also includes the compilation Armadillo Bootleg #1 that features live and studio tracks including a live cut from her all-woman Southern rock band Sis Deville, a collaboration with Sara Hickman and two Subdudes covers.
As the Dallas Observer says of King, “Onstage, she leads her band through tangents of electric Southern blues and acoustic folk, revved-up Cajun country and rock and roll with a charismatic ease that evidences the resilience of a lifelong performer.” And for more than a decade now, she has taken her act across the U.S. and Canada and as well tours of Europe and Japan, sharing stages with scores of noted performers from a range of styles (including such top acts as Patty Griffin, Los Lonely Boys, The Flatlanders, Mavis Staples, Ricky Skaggs and many others), appearing at major festivals in North America and Europe, and performing live on XM satellite radio and the internationally syndicated concert show Woodsongs, among many other radio and TV appearances.
King’s fervent Texas following led her to be nominated and then selected as the Texas State Musician for 2008. She shares the honor with such acts as Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel and Dale Watson, and is the first woman to hold the prestigious annual post.
The origins of her collaboration with members of The Subdudes was first seeing the band in 1993 in Austin and being knocked out by their show, and then buying a cassette of one of their albums in a used tape bin. “I could not take it out of the tape player in my car for months,” King recalls. “I just got into the groove where that was my music and the soundtrack to my life.” She later met and befriended the group running into them on tour and playing shows together.
Welcome Home started out informally with an initial session at Magnie’s home studio in Fort Collins, Colorado. “I really just went to demo a few songs and kind of goof around in the studio with them,” explains King. “We were in the studio for three days and came out with five songs, and had just an amazing time together. I wasn’t trying to do a record. But when I started listening to it all afterwards, I thought, wow, this is really special, and I’d really love to do it again.”
Over two subsequent visits to Fort Collins, a full album took shape. “It came about really organically,” King enthuses. “We didn’t get together and say we’re going to produce a record. We were just thinking about the music and having fun recording with no pressure, and whatever comes of it comes of it. When it all came down I had recorded a whole record. I savored every moment of it and didn’t want it to end. It was a total labor of love.”
Welcome Home is now sure to reside in the hearts of all that hear it as a contemporary classic of soulful American music. Yet for all the honors, praise and success King has achieved — and doing so by booking her own tours and releasing her albums on her own Lemonade Records label — the ultimate rewards for King are those of the soul. “It’s joyous work,” she concludes of her career. “It’s what I love doing and it’s such a blessing to be able to do what you love every day.”
Shelley King- acoustic guitar and vox
Marvin Dykhuis-guitars, mandolin & vox
Sarah Brown-bass & vox
Perry Drake-drums and vox
Chip Dolan-keys, accordion & vox
Welcome Home (Lemonade 2009)
Armadillo Bootleg #1 (Lemonade 2008)
Rockin' the Dancehall (Lemonade 2004)
The Highway (Lemonade 2002)
Call of My Heart, (Lemonade 1998)
Shelley King, (EP Lemonade 1996)
Riverchild, self release (EP 1994)
Invictus, self released (EP 1992)
Happy Holidays From Austin, Texas, Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau
Lost Pines Texas, Hyatt Regency Music Project, 2007
Keep Punching, George Foreman Project for MD Anderson, 2007
A Hill Country Christmas, Candlelight Ranch Project 2005
Don't Mess With Texas Music Vol. 3, Texas Music Project 2005
Travelling Texas, Texas Music Herritage Foundation 2002
All I want for Christmas, Dusty Records, 2002 Sweden
Mixed Grill, Texas Music Round Up 2000
Rockin' at the Barn, Dusty Records, 1999 Sweden
Recordings of Shelley King's songs by other artists:
Call of My Heart, Toni Price (Antone's 2001)
Who Needs Tears, Toni Price (Antone's 2001
Tennessee Whiskey, Toni Price (Antone's 2004)
Texas Blue Moon, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood (Warner International 2004)
Who Needs Tears, Heather Moon (indy 2003)
Who Needs Tears, Deb Reimer (Vancouver 2005)
Robyn's Song, Nicole Gilbert, Butterfly Wine (indy 2004)
Running Out of Blue, Karen Mal & Chris Irwin (The Orchard 2001)
Open Up To Me, co-write Sara Hickman & Shelley King 2007
One Way Ticket to Austin, Jessica Shepherd (Skylark 2000)
The Getaway, Floramay Holliday co-write w/ Shelley(Roseneath 2005)
Out on the Town, Floramay Holliday co-write w/ Shelley (Roseneath 2005)
Walk On, Jameylee, Heirloom (Chattanooga 2008)
Everything's All Right
Asking Too Much
How You Make Me Feel
I Can't Make It Easy
It's Starting to Rain
Grain of Sand
sonicboomers.com REVIEW by Bill Bentley
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It all makes perfect sense, how a young Arkansas singer can be named State Musician of Texas in 2008...It all makes perfect sense, how a young Arkansas singer can be named State Musician of Texas in 2008, gaining the heart of Austin listeners over the course of several years and winning the ears of other singers who show their respect by recording Shelley King's songs and passing her name around as someone to listen out for. That is no small shakes in the place that proudly calls itself "Live Music Capital of the World." And who are we to argue? For this new album, King fulfilled a longtime dream and recorded it with most members of New Orleans' pride and joy the subdudes, and Lordy what a stroke of smarts that was. Together they've captured the essence of music, kind of like lightening in a bottle, and shown us just what joy there is in the sound of people pouring the souls out in sound. The woman's voice is as natural a wonder as you're likely to hear today, coming from that place where feelings run deep and without affectation. She obviously has some kind of direct line to greatness, because on songs like "Summer Wine," "Asking Too Much" and "Grain of Sand," there is a wisdom that cannot be learned; rather it must be lived from birth. The subdudes' members --John Magnie, Tim Cook and Steve Amedee--have an instantaneous ESP running from their spirits that lets them connect to these songs almost by osmosis. There are no overwrought solos or extraneous shenanigans in their playing at all, of course. It is all sweet and special and perfectly attuned to what King is singing. For fans of music that feels like it is inspired on back porches in Southern climes, Welcome Home is a perfect fit. That this is the woman's fifth album and she may still be a new name is our loss and her gain. Either way, this is a sound we've been waiting for awhile, and the beginning of 2010 is just the right time to invite Shelley King in. To stay.
Texas Music Journal- REVIEW
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Shelley King, 2008 Official State Musician of Texas, presents us with a new offering, Welcome Home, ...Shelley King, 2008 Official State Musician of Texas, presents us with a new offering, Welcome Home, that that not only highlights the flexibility of her vocal talent, but also underscores the craftsmanship that she and the Subdudes (John Magnie, Tim Cook and Steve Armedée) put into each and every song. One factor of craft that really standouts out in this recording is King’s minimalist approach to instrumentation. She doesn’t overpower a song with excessive instrumental support. In fact, the title song opens with a simple acoustic strum that supports the power of the vocals (which are absolutely awesome). The wailing undertones provided by the accordion and percussive support of the other instruments paints a picture of old time gospel that is quite engaging.
Another minimalist song is King’s, “I Remember”. Basically using vocals, drums, and a touch of harmonica, King draws you into the energy of the song. The crispness of the recording allows the listener to feel every bit of the drum work. Each element balances the other perfectly.
Where fuller instrumentation is provided, King ensures that a musical balance is maintained. This balances allows her to take us on a musical journey that includes gospel numbers (Welcome Home, Grain of Sand), south Texas zydeco influenced melodies (Everything’s All Right), bluesy numbers (I Can’t Make It Easy), country-influence (How You Make Me Feel, Falling Fast) and even a reprise of “Welcome Home” that emphasizes the old-timey nature of the song through a simulated early radio sound. Each number supports the next in the album, though they may be of completely different styles.
“Summer Wine” is a song that has received international air play already. However, there are many songs on this album that should be getting radio time. A song like “Asking Too Much” exudes the Texas sound. A beautiful melody is supported with great vocals and accordion work; one finds themselves transported into a Texas frame of mind. “Grain of Sand” has a folksy gospel sound that draws you into the song with the deep bass vocal backup and the excellent organ work.
King shows the flexibility of her talent in this album. Going beyond the fact that she was the first woman selected for the post of Official State Musician of Texas, in Welcome Home, King shows that she is a master song craftsman; perfect instrumentation for the mood of her songs, supported by a fantastic cast of musicians. This is definitely an album to pick on your holiday gift list!
Texas Music Magazine-REVIEW
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Shelley King Welcome Home (Lemonade Records) Framing Austin-based songwriter Shelley King’s powe...Shelley King
Framing Austin-based songwriter
Shelley King’s powerhouse
voice — alternately
capable of soothing, growling and languidly
coasting on command — with the jangly
groove of New Orleans bar-band vets the
Subdudes is an idea that sounds good on
paper. On record, it’s the best Texas/
Louisiana collaboration since crawfish enchiladas.
Perhaps emboldened by her 2008
run as official State Musician of Texas, King
transcends the straightforward countryblues
of her past albums with something as
sonically rich and thematically solid as any
album this year. The message is as buoyant
as the music, for the most part; shades of
sadness aren’t unrealistically omitted, but
they are overwhelmed in the joyful pulse of
songs nodding to the spiritual, the personal
and the inevitable intermingling of both that
makes albums like this such good company
when optimism is deeply felt (or sorely needed).
Austin Chronicle- REVIEW by Margaret Moser
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Texas Platters BY MARGARET MOSER Shelley King Welcome Home (Lemonade Records) A new Shelley ...Texas Platters
BY MARGARET MOSER
Welcome Home (Lemonade Records)
A new Shelley King album is always occasion to celebrate and guaranteed to spin at least a couple of songs into the stratosphere. Welcome Home isn't just a pleasant sounding homily; it's back-to-back killer tracks start to finish, with songsmith King's full-custom gospel voice matched with fellow co-producers and Subdudes John Magnie, Tim Cook, and Steve Amedée. Hers is such a divine rendering of compositional craft that the lengthy wait between albums is worth it. She's the player who can hit all the balls, from bluesy balladry ("It's Starting to Rain") and gospel ("Welcome Home") to zydeco ("Everything's All Right") and country swamp pop ("Asking Too Much") with righteous force and, here, spare instrumentation that only enhances the music. One of these days, some singer will make Shelley King a wealthy woman. Meanwhile, her sweet Texas honey soul is still ours to savor.
BUDDY Magazine- REVIEW
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Shelley King Welcome Home Lemonade Records -------------------- Shelley King's SLOW-BURNING, sen...Shelley King
Shelley King's SLOW-BURNING, sensual soul and gospel CD Welcome Home with three members of the Subdudes appeals to the flesh as much as to the spirit. The sound comes as much from the 1950s as it does the pew, and it's a fun, sometimes moving listen.
King, the 2008 Official State Musician of Texas, is more known for her roots blend of rocked-up folk, country, bluegrass, and more.
The New Orleans-based Subdudes blend blues,gospel,funk, and R&B into their own brand of rock. Three of the band's members, Steve Amedee, Time Cook and John Magnie, joined King on this CD with their harmony vocals, playing, and co-production skills. Amedee contributes drums, other percussion, and guitar; Magnie keyboards, accordion, harmonica, and percussion; Cook bass and percussion.
Other musicians are Perry Drake (drums and other percussion), Jay Clear (guitar) and Jeff Stephenson (guitar).
The CD is a bit inconsistent, perhaps, in the sense that the best songs are so good and the "worst" songs are only "average"; when it shines, it shines bright.
Highlights include the title song with its simmering question about living the best life you can, wondering, "will your chariot be waiting, will the saints give you a ride, will the pearly gates be open so you can walk inside?".
On the old-style soul and gospel sounding "Summer Wine", she's ready to reconnect disconnected lives. On the more upbeat "I Remember", she and the percussion-backed choir remember the promises a man made while he remembers what he wants to remember.
King wrote all three of those. Then there's the slow, torchy "I Can't Make It Easy", a so-write with Magnie that celebrates love through the tears. On her upbeat "Falling Fast", she's ripe and ready to be picked from the vine.
Blues is King
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Blues is King on Friday The Shelley King Band's final song at the 14th annual New York State Blu...Blues is King on Friday
The Shelley King Band's final song at the 14th annual New York State Blues Festival could hardly have been more timely. "All I want is a brand new day," her a capella chant droned, part cosmic mantra, part dirt-road rap. Her plea was not ignored; just as she finished, the sun broke through stubborn cloud cover to illuminate the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Stage next to Salina Street, and light up Clinton Square as well.
King's powerful set was the surprise of the eclectic lineup on Friday, July 15, livening a slowly growing crowd as the second act of the festival's opening night.
Anchoring the events at the Budweiser Main Stage next to Clinton Street, and the evening itself, was the quintessential horn band Roomful of Blues. A staple on the blues scene since 1967, Roomful (more like arena full) has spent 36 years supersizing the blues, redimensioning the idiom into a steroidal hybrid, an insistent, in-your-face throb full of swing, rhythm'n'blues and urban and country blues, all soaked with soul. Their set was irresistible, persistently magnified by their diverse repertoire and driven by their signature horn and Hammond-B3 sound. These were proven veterans in overdrive, frequently switching styles and inflating the dynamics, laying down pressurized, dance hall-ready blues, all of it rockin' hard.
As it had throughout the evening, the music's direction changed once again when The Subdudes took the main stage for the evening's finale. Easily the least familiar act of the evening, in both name and style, this New Orleans-based quintet plied yet another niche of blues-influenced Americana with a set full of blues, folk, zydeco, Cajun and country influences, all spun into an itchy dance groove. Using bass, guitar, accordion, keyboards and a drummer who played with a drumstick in one hand and a tambourine in the other, the Subdudes shucked and rambled through a set replete with the echoes of Ry Cooder, Dr. John and The Band. Loaded with Crescent City syncopation, their music fused a spiritual quality into rustic, homespun funk, a kind of roots music reinvented as a kinetic pulse, causing the crowd to shake and quiver in spontaneous response.
And even though Friday's music left the crowd walking away happy, it was King's Texas honky-tonk that had set the standard for the evening. An imposing woman with a plus-sized voice, the Austin-based singer-songwriter rode the ridge line between blues, folk and country, couched it all in dance-hall vernacular, and made it rock hard. Her songs were declarative statements full of self-emancipation, narratives of personal turmoil and redemption, or reflective parables full of scars from lessons learned the hard way. Her band was lean and spare, with guitarist Kris Brown, bassist Tony Velasco, and drummer Perry Drake etching out sinuous rhythms, and her authoritative voice full of sass and swagger. Leaving both the glow of the late afternoon sun and a standard to match in her wake, King had proven the slogan on the festival volunteers' T-shirts to be correct: "Syracuse ain't nothing but a blues town."
N2 Magazine "Shelley King: A Voice Larger Than Life Itself"
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Life is large! With all of the love and opportunities that the gift of living has in store, there...Life is large! With all of the
love and opportunities that
the gift of living has in store,
there isn’t much of anything
more grandiose, except for
maybe the voice of Shelley
King. Miss King is a Bang-
She is one of those about
whom you might ask
yourself: “Why isn’t Shelley
In some circles, she is
famous. For example, in
2008 Shelley King was the
first female to ever receive
the honor of being the
Official Texas State Musician.
In 2005, she was awarded
the Roots Rock Band of the
Year by the Austin Music
Awards. King is loved
in broad circles around
the country, but certainly
has a Roots-Stompin’
boot on the threshold of
fame’s door, especially in
Texas. Numerous artists,
national and international,
have covered King’s songs
including Toni Price, who
featured King’s compositions
on the PBS series Austin
City Limits. Nancy Sinatra
and Lee Hazelwood covered
King’s “Texas Blue Moon” on
their Warner International
release in 2004. You see,
she’s doing everything right.
Now it’s your opportunity
to get to know Shelley King!
Take a moment to order or
download one, or better yet
all five, of King’s well-crafted
Americana CD’s, the most
recent being a 2008 release
called Armadillo Bootleg #1
which features songs written
by King and many others
including Sara Hickman and
Floramay Holliday. The cast
of players is incredible and
the CD is a limited edition
But here’s the big surprise
about to hit the street---a
new record that is a unique
Shelley King and members of
the Subdudes: John Magnie,
Tim Cook and Steve Amedée.
King and her long-time
musical heroes produced
and performed together on
this soon-to-be released
studio album entitled
“Welcome Home” and
together they have created
a classic! King’s lustrous,
soothing voice and timeless
songs are at the forefront
of this recording supported
by layers of effortless
Subdudes harmony and
superb musicianship. The
first single, “Summer Wine”,
is an All-American, sultrysummer
love song with an
uplifting melody and smooth
groove reminding the listener
of the simple pleasures of
summertime and being with
the one you love. I know
we’ve moved into Autumn,
but “Summer Wine” should
definitely be on your list of
tunes to play throughout the
rest of the year to carry you
through the seasons. It’s a
fun song. It’s a catchy song.
It’s a hit song, if you ask me!
You can listen to it by visiting
it once and you’re hooked
forever on “Summer Wine”.
You will find yourself craving
more glasses full of Shelley
King and the Subdude
collaborators. You’ll have to
wait just a little while for the
full release, so sip slowly on
“Summer Wine” and enjoy
Shelley King live all over
the State of Texas, officially
representing that sound
that has practically become
its own genre – Texas
Americana! King holds the
One of the State's Best Voices
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San Antonio Express-News One of the State's Best Voices Author: Jim Beal Jr.; SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS...San Antonio Express-News
One of the State's Best Voices
Author: Jim Beal Jr.; SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
All right, so nobody has crowned Shelley King a queen - yet - but she is certainly working, and working is the operative word, her way into Texas singer/songwriter royalty.
Based in Austin, but raised in rural Arkansas, King is a singer with a big, flexible voice and songwriting chops to spare. Saturday at 9:30 p.m. she and her band, Perry Drake (drums), Kyle Judd (guitar) and Ann Marie Harrop (upright bass), will take the stage at Tin Pan Alley in Bracken, just across Cibolo Creek from the old Cibolo Creek Country Club. Tin Pan's phone number is (210) 651-9110. Cover costs $8.
Like many of the best singers, King grew up singing in church. Her first public performances were under the steeple and that sanctified singing style still marks everything she does. And what King, with the considerable help of the band, does is a bit of folk, a bit of country, a taste of zydeco, a touch of rock and some gospel.
People who might not have been familiar with King and her work had their ears opened when Toni Price's "Midnight Pumpkin" CD included King's "Call of My Heart" and "Who Needs Tears."
King now is working the tour road, doing everything from acoustic shows to full-on band gigs, with her second disc, "The Highway." Recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., "The Highway" is a snapshot of King's strengths: solid songs, varied tempos, plainspoken lyrics and a strong combination of motion and emotion.
King can write blues ("Running Out of Blue"), travelogues ("Pack It Up"), common-sense quirkiness ("More Than It's Worth") and plain old fun tunes ("Texas Style Zydeco"). Put it all together with that voice and that band and you have a queen even if there is no crown.
Country Standard Time
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Shelley King The Highway Lemonade Austin singer and songwriter Shelley King had been establishing...Shelley King
Austin singer and songwriter Shelley King had been establishing a solid local following since her arrival in 1992, but when Toni Price covered two of King’s songs on "Midnight Pumpkin," King’s songwriting talent became firmly established, earning her several Austin Music Awards. With the release of her second album, King displays her prowess with the pen as well as her pipes.
King, who has described herself as a naturally happy person, sounds like she’s having a darn good time here, which is a testimony to how energetic her live shows must be. Even when she sings of lost love, she sounds joyful and hopeful.
The 12 songs run the gamut from commercially viable Americana to zydeco to soul- and gospel-tinged roots music. The first half effectively evokes the wide-open, sultry landscape of East Texas and Louisiana, but the songs are not as interesting, musically and lyrically, as the ones that follow. Most of the songs on the second half tone down their country element and let more a more soulful sound through, which suits King’s big, un-cryin’-in-your-beer voice.
Much is made in reviews of King’s gospel background (singing in church in Arkansas), and that early training comes through in her vocals. While King can be ebullient, she is also capable of singing with a smoky tone of wisdom to her voice, as in “Walk On” and “Who Needs Tears”, whose lyrics are equally wise. Not merely a singer-songwriter, King is both singer and songwriter. (P.O. Box 33097, Austin, TX 78764, Shelley King)
- Clarissa Sansone, Country Standard Time
Queen of the Road
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Queen of the Road Shelley King has been up and down The Highway, looking for a home for h...
Queen of the Road
Shelley King has been up and down The Highway, looking for a home for her music
BY NATE CAVALIERI
Shelley King is onstage at a smoky punk dive on an oppressively humid summer night, hundreds of miles from home, in the middle of the Midwest. It's close to 100 degrees in the bar, and as she plays guitar and sings, even her knuckles are sweating. Her eclectic country songs have absolutely cleared the leather jackets and liberty spikes out of the room, and she hasn't even finished the first set. Welcome to Shelley King's worst nightmare.
"I remember going out into the parking lot between sets and I was on the verge of tears," she says with a somewhat sour laugh. "I kept thinking, 'Why am I in Cleveland? Get me out of here. Get me back home, where they love us.'"
Literally and figuratively, the punk club in Ohio is thousands of miles behind her, something that she can look back at with a laugh. It opens up the floodgates to an assortment of wince-inspiring stories about her struggles early on: leaving puking bass players at the side of the Texas highway, finding last-minute substitute guitarists while en route to gigs and logging tens of thousands of miles to play in every imaginable environment. More than a decade after King began forging a solo career, she is able to bear these battle scars with pride. It helps that she's found a loving home in Austin. King has become a dominant force in the city's highly regarded songwriting circle since she migrated there in 1992, gaining notoriety as both a songwriter and performer.
"You know, somehow things always work out, and I think I've always known that things just will work out," King says. "We drove up to Dallas one time with no guitar player, so we decided to play acoustic and call up a friend of ours to play harmonica to fill things out. But when we got there one of the most fabulous guitar players in Dallas just happened to be there. He had just got done with a gig and had nothing to do. The harmonica player showed up in the middle of the first song, and with everyone playing it was like magic."
Maybe King has a charmed existence, but her ability to make magic happen is mostly the result of her determination as a songwriter and bandleader. Onstage, she leads her band through tangents of electric Southern blues and acoustic folk, revved-up Cajun country and rock and roll with a charismatic ease that evidences the resilience of a lifelong performer.
"I guess the more I keep going at it the better luck I have," King says. "I've been lucky over the years to play with people I admire and play to people who want to listen. Sometimes I joke that God is my booking agent. I should get a bumper sticker or something that says that."
The musicians who surround her--including Perry Drake, on drums, lead guitarist Kris Brown and bassist Bonnie Whitmore--all stand out as distinctive players in their own right, rambling through the set with a coy energy that glues together the songs' divergent styles. One moment Brown is nailing spot-on bluegrass licks to progressive, jazz-infused country guitar solos; the next he is freestyling psychedelic accounts of staring at spinning 45 labels on the Fisher-Price turntable of his youth. And somehow it all makes sense. King's songs, while musically diverse, are tied together with a storyteller's voice that has become something of a tradition for Texas-born greats such as Lyle Lovett and Townes Van Zandt.
"In Austin, people really mix things together--they almost expect it," she says. "There is country and blues, folk and rock. Everything gets wrapped up in there. For songwriters, that kind of thing is encouraged. For me, that was so welcoming because after having been in other markets it wasn't that way. In Houston...well, they didn't know what the hell my music was up there."
Maybe King should spread some promo copies of her latest, The Highway, through the streets of Houston. The disc, released last winter on King's own Lemonade Records, plays like a road map touching on every subset of neo-traditionalist Southern country music, from Appalachian bluegrass to Texas-imbibed zydeco. At the forefront throughout the record is King's warm alto, narrating with a kind of soul power that can only be born in one place: a church.
"It was just a little one-room church in Arkansas," King says of her first performance venue. She started singing there, in the church choir of her grandmother's congregation, when she was just 4 years old. "There wasn't much music happening outside of that church, and singing the gospel songs was something that I fell in love with. When I was a little older I was singing solos in church. This wasn't a fancy place, there weren't microphones or anything, and it was there I learned that I had to sing to the back row if I wanted people to hear me."
In slow increments, King has reached beyond the back row of that church to roots-music fans across the country. In addition to her relentless touring, her songs have been championed by Austin notable Toni Price. Price recently brought King's music to international audiences with performances of "Call My Heart" and "Who Needs Tears" on Austin City Limits.
"I don't know what working with her did for me nationally or internationally," King says. "I know around here she is someone who is known for performing good songs. Everyone knows that she sings the best songs and she doesn't write any of them, so people want to know who writes the ones she sings. She definitely has a cult following, and when the people who love her see her play my songs live or on Austin City Limits or something, they want to check me out when I come to their town, too."
While shopping songs to other artists can have a big payoff, King's intentions are evident in her self-made success and determination as a solo performer. King may write songs that other people want to sing, but she doesn't start with that in mind. She's not just a songwriter; she's also a singer.
"I guess I've written songs that have made me say to myself, 'Oh, that might be a Bonnie Raitt song,' or something, but that isn't the way that I approach writing songs," King says. "That's just something that is a way to think about the song. I write songs that are based on inspiration, songs that I want to write. There are definitely some songs that I would never play in public, but I still write songs like that when they come to me. I'm just lucky the Shelley King songs come, too."
dallasobserver.com | originally published: July 17, 2003
Set length varies.
90 minute set preferred, however, longer sets can be accommodated. She doesn't usually do many cover songs but if the mood strikes she may toss in some CCR, Fleetwood Mac, Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly or even Hank Williams Sr.