In last week’s column, I wrote of my love of female indie artists. The list is long, and includes a variety of songwriters and performers, but absent from that list was a female vocalist I always enjoyed but never took too seriously. She was a competent songwriter and really great singer, but for some damned reason, I let her slip away without giving her much ink.
So I dug up a CD she sent me years ago and gave it another listen, and the distance – both physical and in the space of time – has given me a new appreciation for this hard-working and more-talented-than-I-gave-her-credit-for artist. I’m talking about Tracy Shedd.
Shedd began “working” as a musician when she was attending high school in Jacksonville in the ’90s in a band called Sella. Soon she was solo(ish), with then-boyfriend/now-husband James Tritten accompanying her and helping manage her solo career. She released moody singer/songwriter alt-rock and played around town. She was popular, and had a great reputation. Again, I liked her voice, but favored the more aggressive approach of fellow Jacksonvillian songwriter Shannon Wright.
Man, was I missing out, as another listen to 2008’s Cigarettes & Smoke Machines proves beyond a doubt. The album opens with that jingle-jangle indie guitar that probably turned me off in her early days. But holy crapola, when “Never Too Late” kicks into its Lush-like chorus, I’m sold. I now take full responsibility for practically ignoring her.
Shedd has a Suzanne Vega sense of phrasing, which really comes out on the second tune, “Whatever It Takes.” Again, that post-grunge strummy-strum-strum is present, but there’s a depth to the backing guitars I missed the first time around. A kind of reverb-y Tex-Mex melody that elevates the tune. This happens several times throughout Cigarettes
& Smoke Machines.
Skipping ahead a few tracks, we get “Won Past Ten,” a giddy Sundays-like pop tune that also benefits from a similar guitar treatment and washy cymbal crashes. Shedd’s vocals are wonderfully understated here. Damn, she is good. Really good.
But as nifty as these songs are, they pale in comparison to the slow-burn epic ballad “Remember the Time We Set the Highway on Fire?” A plaintive melody opens the song, and Shedd’s voice is lovely as ever, lilting over slow strums and legato bass lines. She repeats the line, “You’re everywhere I go,” several times, slowly, sadly, before the song dive-bombs into an explosive half-time section that’s as thick and dense as any sludgy jam you can conjure. It stands in beautiful contrast to the sweeping melody of the verse and really sets Shedd apart from those I lumped her in with more than a decade ago.
I was a fool.
The 12 songs on Cigarettes & Smoke Machines deserve more credit than I was willing to dole out when it was released. I am easily exhausted by genres, and I unjustly lumped Shedd in with those post-grunge bandwagon-jumpers. Listening to album-closer “Home” certainly had me hanging my head with not just a little shame. It’s a big piece wrapped up in a small, quiet package and a Lush-like out-chorus. (The comparison to Lush is simply illustrative in nature, as the song stands entirely on its own.)
Shedd and Tritten still work together, and Shedd has released a number of records since leaving Jacksonville for various locales. She has lived and worked in North Carolina and Tucson, Arizona, and her latest, Arizona, focuses on life there. It, and Cigarettes & Smoke Machines are available at her Bandcamp site (tracyshedd.bandcamp.com).
If you were a fan of Shedd when she was in town, but have since lost track of her, look her up. If you’ve never heard of her, or want to familiarize yourself with a former Jacksonville songwriter, look her up. If you want to have your mind blown by an album I hastily ignored so many years ago … look her up.