2/25/19

Mackenzie Shivers: February 2019 Artist/Albums of the Month





Mackenzie Shivers is New York bred and based. She refers to her music as "piano-driven indie folk with a Celtic soul," and counts Tori Amos, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, and Aoife O'Donovan among her influences. I'd recommend you ignore labels or comparisons and just listen. I have just sampled two previously released EPs and material from her new record The Unkindness and my first thought is, "Who is responsible for keeping this woman a secret from me?"

The title track from Living in My Head (2016/18) is a fragile little song that is sweet and affecting. Shivers can sing high and reedy, but she's far from being a delicate songbird. She really works the band on "Disco's Dead," and her arrangement of it drifts toward a Cowboy Junkies-like foray into acid rock. When she goes staccato to sing of putting on "my shitty black dress and my shitty black shoes," we know she meant what she emoted in the previous line: "I won't cry for the departed, I won't cry for the afraid/But I'll cry for New York City, babe, cause they say she's turnin' gray." "Lily-Rose" also rocks around the edges and it features a common trait on this release: open quiet, build, get quiet again in the middle, and then let 'er rip. "Tell Me to Run," another ghosts of NYC song, showcases how Shivers constructs a song from spray-like tinklings of the ivories. When she shapes the melody to where she wants it, she breaks out the ornamentation.

Shivers wears her Celtic cap of the EP Ravens, right down to doing an amazing cover of the old Irish chestnut "Parting Glass." She uses repeated notes in a pulse-like fashion and keeps the composition spare until she's halfway through. But not even the strings toward the end disrupt the contemplative mood. On the titletrack she breaks out a harmonium for a voice atop drone effect that makes this original song sound as if it's ancient. On "Winter," her keys are as dark as a late November evening sky. But the standout track is "Forgiveness." On this one the plinky high notes get a workout and she lets them resonate. It's waltz time and the melody is so beautiful it brings tears.

From what I've heard of The Unkindness, Ms. Shivers has another winner on her hands. On the titular offering she sings, "Far across the darkness/I see a face like mine/Frightened by the shadows/That leave us far behind." It's very atmospheric and I get the Tori Amis comparisons on this one, but the ever so subtle and tasteful touch of strings on the outro reminds us that Mackenzie Shivers rides nobody's coattails.

Rob Weir


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