Title:  Ripen
Artist:  Shawn McDonald
Label:  Sparrow Records /EMI CMG Label Group
Length:  15 Tracks / 60:00
Released:  April 2006

Every once in a while an artist comes along and brings with him or her a fragrance as sweet and refreshing as the air you breathe in just after a light summer’s rain. That artist takes you back to all your best memories and causes you to hold tightly to your fondest dreams. Shawn McDonald is that artist. His CD Ripen can be summed up in one word ‘spectacular’. McDonald’s songwriting skills are once again united with the arrangements of Christopher Stevens. The twosome first appeared together on McDonald’s critically acclaimed 2004 debut album Simply Nothing. McDonald added to his initial success with 2005’s Live In Seattle.

This is an album that will take your breath away. Christopher Stevens’ arrangements are ethereal yet have many layers that one can peel away. The airy qualities of songs such as “I Want To Be Ready”, “Rider On The White Horse” and “Reason” are enhanced by the liberal use of strings and the Chris de Burgh like vocals of McDonald.

One simply cannot say enough about the orchestration of the music on Ripen. The spotlight is on Memphis Tennessee’s Dr Roy Brewer’s violin playing on four of the songs. Brewer also appears playing Flamenco guitars on IMAGO.  Cellists Dale Bradley (Eugene Oregon), Texas’ Eric Smith, Neal Vickers and New Orleans’ Rick Nelson (The Polyphonic Spree) share duties. Georgia’s beautiful violist Tiffany Watson who recorded with Alan Jackson (A Lot About Livin’ [And A Little ‘Bout Love]) also appears on several tunes.

Thematically “I Want To Be Ready”, “Rider On The White Horse” and “Home” are apocalyptic in nature. McDonald’s compositions are enveloped in imagery, parable and allegory. These characteristics are particularly noticeable in his penning of “Lovely”, “A Little More” and “Take Hold”. All the aforementioned songs share the common theme of reaching out to the hurting.

Brewer’s Flamenco guitar work on IMAGO provides a spirited colorful musical interlude before the album closes out with “A Little More” and “Lovely” the fourteenth and fifteenth tracks respectively. “Little More” is worth listening to just to catch the percussion work of Gary Burnette. “Little More” however offers a lot more as it is a great bluesy tune with vocals that will give you goose bumps. McDonald with his acoustic guitar and Matt Pierson on electric weave the slow meandering notes until they find a resting place in our hearts. “Little More” provides the perfect segue to the gentle “Lovely”.

This past spring Shawn McDonald regularly sold out venues in California and Washington State while touring with his friends Warren Barfield and Alli Rogers.


Copyright © 2006 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.

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