The eleven songs on Jimmy Shannon’s latest album Better Now than Ever are a sterling example of how some musicians keep improving with age. The popular misconception about the arts is that, invariably, creative forces peak during their youth and the work following those halcyon early days invariably suffers in comparison. Jimmy Shannon’s playing and songwriting gives lie to that. The tracks on Better Now than Ever bristle with life and inspiration, yet show the same taste and focus that listeners of past Shannon albums have come to expect. Better Now than Ever is a superb collection from beginning to end and stands as another important moment in a career full of such moments. There are moments on Better Now than Ever truly capable of touching listeners without risking sentimentality and it reaches deep into Shannon’s songwriting talents with remarkable and satisfying results.
Listeners will be satisfied from the outset. “He Said… She Said”, the album opener, sets up a duet as dialogue between Shannon and a wonderful female vocalist. The song adds some marvelous violin work to work as a counterpoint between these two voices and the resulting effect makes it a great start for Better Now than Ever. “I Don’t Want To Lose You” takes a bit more of a rough hewn approach to entertain Shannon’s audience, but this ballsy and boisterous musical adventure feature copious amounts of brass obscures one of the album’s more vulnerable lyrics. Those qualities still come through, however, thanks to the emotive tenor of Shannon’s vocals. There’s a slight country feel to the song “I Lost My Way” thanks to the unobtrusive contributions of pedal steel guitar, but Shannon never stresses those elements too heavily and the track ends up sounding closer to a pleasingly hybridized folk track. Shannon’s audience will be excused if they are a little suspicious about a song as plaintively titled as “I Love You”, but taking the chance of sounding overtly cheesy or sentimental never comes to pass. Instead, the song comes across as utterly sincere, musically delicate yet substantive, and free from heavy handed clichés.
“I Can Help You” has some remarkably piercing electric guitar never overstating its presence in this slowly evolving tune. The dreamy qualities characterizing many of the songs on Better Now Than Ever continue here, primarily hinging on the sensitive piano playing, but the added emotional bite courtesy of the guitar is a welcome twist. Shannon serves up another love song with the track “In Love With Me” and this is a solidly folk-styled tune without leaning too much on the acoustic guitar. The light keyboards in the background bring more color to the song and take it in another direction. There are some nice touches of electric guitar that peek out of the mix. The album’s closer is another take on the earlier “I Don’t Want To Lose You” sans horns and it reaffirms what the earlier version presented – this is the most obviously commercial track from Better Now than Ever, but it never achieves its final results in a cheap, obvious way. Better Now than Ever has enough variation to please any music fan and it reaches down deep within to share the reality of the songwriter’s life and imagination with a fortunate audience.