Nick Shaheen
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Nick Shaheen

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band Americana Singer/Songwriter

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Discography

Don't Give Up On Me (March 2012)

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With so much new music being discovered and thousands of sub-genres being spat out these days, sometimes the most impressive releases have a worn-in, overtly familiar feeling. In the case of Chicago singer/songwriter Nick Shaheen's debut Don't Give Up On Me, it's a simple backbone: wading on the shores of the last sixty years of Americana, the young upstart visits topics well beyond his years with a relatable, honed-in delivery that calls to mind some of the genres greatest voices. Recorded over two years in various measures - apartments, studios, and even iPhones - this first outing is rife with pain and joy, both equally presented with the same disarming honesty.

A native of the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, Shaheen's workmanlike mentality spills from his education and onto the written page. Majoring in Finance and Marketing at the University of Michigan, Shaheen toyed with music a bit in his teens and early 20's but admits to not committing to songwriting up until 2009, when he crafted a tune rather out of the blue that he couldn't shake. "The song came out so fast and afterwards, it was something I could look at and I felt like it stood on its own and didn't need me to validate it or anything," he recalls. "I always felt connected to music and knew I'd be doing something with it, but I never really wrote anything (before that)... so it seemed kind of strange. But when it all started to happen, it just sort of unfolded for me and I felt very connected to the whole thing."

After relocating to Chicago to continue work in finance, Shaheen met up with those that would make up his backing band through open mic performances and connections at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. It seems like fate that these members, most of which being from Michigan as well, also sport not-so-typical work histories: Shaheen is backed by a lawyer, an Apple Genius, a mechanical engineer, a brand strategist and a district manager of a hardware store chain.

Far from just another good-hearted singer with an acoustic guitar, Shaheen and his cast of friends and area musicians paint an always moving picture - sometimes with flashes of horn or banjo, but always with flair and playing for the good of the song. The hypnotic shuffle of "Hard Times," the lively storytelling of "Fishin'," the hushed romance of both "By My Name" and "Quite Uncommon" - all are blanketed in a keen sense of harmony, structure and making the most of one's palette. Shaheen has clearly took cues from his influences - Van Morrison, Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan - but these are far from crib notes. He stands on his own throughout this album, spilling Dylan's deliberate lyrical rhythms over a mix of bluegrass, folk and busker-style country.

Don't Give Up On Me is full of poetic musings that speak volumes in their whispers, giving a unique sense of being let in on a secret performance, not so much Shaheen pulling out all the stops to get your attention. Perhaps this LP's greatest triumph is the piano-accompanied closer, "Inside My Shoes." Though hitting the rafters with his voice in some of this album's upbeat moments ("So Long," "I Could Love") Shaheen's notes shake here with a vision of life on the road in sight. Shaheen says this near-perfect track is "about a man trying to come to terms with where he's been, where he's at and where he's going, or wants to go. I wrote it as a direct response to Hank Williams singing 'Lost Highway,' not as a rebuttal, but to look at it through a different pair of eyes."

Despite the dilapidated home of the album cover - a 1956 shot found via the Seattle Engineering Department's public archive - and the pleading nature of its title, Shaheen isn't tied down to a singular theme of disaster or hopelessness. "While I don't think there's an overriding theme, I think the record deals with a lot of the big questions: life, death, love, loneliness. And that always leaves room for interpretation depending on where you're coming from. Some people will think a song is about lost love, when it's really about dying. And that's a good thing. It's important that people connect with music in their own way and have their own feelings about it." In fact, wrapping the entire project under the name Don't Give Up On Me was nearly last-minute. "I was still figuring out the track order, but it seemed like (the title track) was always going to be first (on the album) and I really liked that being the first phrase anyone would ever hear of my recorded music," Shaheen says. As he and Moxham were bike-riding up and down the California coast, Shaheen "noticed a lot of these old houses and cars with this weathered, sandblasted look and the idea they were all calling out 'Don't give up on me' popped into my head." Some may call the such an idea chilling - that we're all just temporary and can be wiped away by just existing - but when you realize that it holds true for all of us, it's strangely comforting. Just like every track on this rec