Building a Fire (Lemonade Records)
Reviewed by Abby Johnston, Fri., Sept. 19, 2014
Shelley KingBuilding a Fire (Lemonade Records)
"Back in the woods, down in Tennessee." Those words serve as introduction to the opening title track, but based on Shelley King's seventh LP, it's hard to believe the local songstress has been anywhere out of state lines lately. Tracing Texas from its swampy eastern border to the cowboy country balladry found in any dance hall with a well-worn pool table, Building a Fire assembles an audio dictionary of Texan roots music. King's powerful, twanged alto takes care of the rest. The kickoff cut blends Louisiana zydeco with blues sensibility, the singer's no-holds-barred vocal mastery front and center. King takes on classic spiritual "I Know I've Been Changed," her delivery fueled by sexuality and filling in spaces usually reserved for a choir. Playing both upbeat blues ("The Things You Do") and slow, sultry dirges ("The Real Thing"), the album even veers slightly macabre on "When I Go Away," written by Larry Campbell, band director for former King conspirator Levon Helm. The lady of the house can wring tears for your beer, too, on "1940's Eyes" and "Talkin' Bout the Weather," slow folk country as dance-floor nostalgic as a waltz. With Building a Fire, Shelley King's set a buffet of Texas roots. Pick a dish, any dish. They're all house specialties.