As Charleston racks up more and more awards, more and more folks entertain the idea of moving here. North Carolina-based indie-folk artist Shannon Whitworth is one of them. “I love Charleston,” Whitworth says from her home in North Carolina. “It’s like another home to me. I want to have dual citizenship between there and here.”
On her upcoming trip to the Holy City, Whitworth has something special in store for local fans. This will not be the standard full-band show. Instead, it’ll be far more intimate. “It’s going to be me and the guitar player, Barrett Smith, which I’ve never done in Charleston,” Whitmore says. “This is a special occasion, because I’m bringing it back to the roots of where a lot of my songs came from in their rawest forms.”
Fans of Whitworth’s music will know immediately how interesting the prospect of such a duet is. Her early work was more of an Americana-tinged version of folk and even country, but then she changed course with her last album, 2013’s High Tide. The track “LA Croix” has an almost 1950s slow-dance quality, and “You Are in Love” is a ’70s-era pop number. And while songs like “So Far Away” and the title track highlight Whitworth’s rich vocals and indelible sense of melody, they are also imbued with an echoing, ambient quality that keeps them from being completely folk-oriented.
As a whole, the record represents a fuller, more complete sound for Whitworth and her band, but the concept of taking it down a notch has been on the musician’s mind since Whitworth’s last Charleston Music Hall show. “Last year when we played there, I kept thinking, ‘Man, I really want to do a duet show in this room. And now it’s going to happen,” she says. “I think when we have all that other sound, it covers up some of the intricacies in some ways. I love all that sound, and that’s a part of my personality that I will always feel, but this is another part of me too. It’s cool to bring it back to its organic place again.
“The Charleston Music Hall is a beautiful room, a great room for listening,” Whitworth adds. “People are seated, and they’re listening and attentive. It’s not like a big, rowdy outside festival or anything, so it’s a great space to bring this sound to. Barrett and I have largely showcased this in western North Carolina, so it’s sort of a new thing we’re breaking out. It’s a lot of fun.”
Fun is an apt way of describing how Whitworth feels about the state of her career these days. The music on High Tide feels more ebullient than previous material, even if the album is not a sugary-sweet excuse to dance. And there is a confidence and cohesiveness that binds the songs together in a way that was not done on her earlier albums. Making High Tide was a much different experience for Whitworth and company, and the evidence that everyone was having a good time shines through in how focused and organic the album sounds.
“It was a really natural process,” Shannon says. “Part of it is my band is finally in a place where we could do that. In the past, I’ve had various incarnations of the band where we weren’t in the right space to be able to do that. So it’s a testament to where this group of guys and me, where we were. It was really natural, which is very unlike all my other records I recorded.”
There is one thing that hasn’t changed, and that is the fact that Whitworth writes her songs from a deeply personal place. Some of them resonate with her so much that her emotions catch up with her when she performs them live, especially one particular song.
“‘Isis’ came out of losing somebody very dear to me,” she adds. “I have a hard time getting through it live at shows without crying. It’s crazy. So that definitely comes straight from the heart.”