Shannon Stephens is a talented musician, a master of subtle stagecraft and a fantastic songwriter with an increasingly brilliant body of work. All of that makes her a perfect guest for The Song Show. But the reason I invited Stephens to performer at the next recording of the podcast, August 9 at ReBar in Seattle, rests on the strength of a single song, “Faces Like Ours,” a duet with indie roots stalwart Will Oldham off of her recently released full-length, Pull It Together.
The song is a complicated act of bravery, a subtle work of protest art that invites the listener to openly disdain the folk song’s protagonist (who might easily be confused for Stephens, herself).
“We’re gonna be alright, baby, we are still young,” Stephens sings at the open of the song. “Baby, we are still young and that’s more than some people can say.”
“We’re gonna be okay, at least we have white skin,” Oldham follows, sending a racially charged shockwave through the song. “And when you have white skin, nobody can send you away.”
“We don’t need bootstraps,” Stephens later concludes, winking. “We’ll hang onto hands of people with faces like ours.”
It is a genius piece of songwriting. And it is a song that, even if Stephens does not perform for the show, begs a few questions of her songwriting process and the role that context plays in how we all hear a song. Thankfully the rest of Pull It Together offers a lot of grist for those same questions, filled as it is with plenty of complex characters, subtle politics and beautiful, brave performances.
Stephens will answer those questions during on onstage interview with me, between stripped-down performances of four of her songs. She will be playing the final slot in impressive lineup of Seattle songwriters. Mychal Cohen will perform songs written for his stomp-folk band Campfire OK, which is currently working on the follow-up to the band’s breakout 2011 release Strange Like We Are. And Benjamin Verdoes will perform songs from Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band’s latest EP, Prehistory, and talk about the brief hiatus that forever changed the way he writes about music. Both will answer prying questions for me and play four of their favorite songs for you.
To buy ticket for The Song Show Live, featuring Shannon Stephens, Mychal Cohen and Benjamin Verdoes, go here. To listen to The Song Show Podcast, go here. For more information on The Song Show, go here.
Watch Shannon Stephens and Will Oldham perform “Faces Like Ours” during the Pull It Together release show at the Sunset Tavern:
Photo of Shannon Stephens by Sherry Loeser