Sally Shuffield

Something in the Water

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Sally Shuffield tackles many different issues on her third album, from the personal to the political to the historical, but somehow things always come down to matters of family. Shuffield is a songwriter with a geographical as well as a sociological territory to cover, and the geography covers a wide midsection of the U.S. from "Tennessee," where the album begins, back to her home state of Arkansas and on through the Southwest and some of the Western states. She also travels through time, with a particular interest in the 19th century, including "1863" and the album's title song, "Something in the Water," subtitled "The Mountain Meadow Massacre," which concerns the incident in 1857 when a party of Arkansas families on their way to California was murdered in Utah by Mormons. And she does not restrict herself to historical fact, inventing her own 19th century outlaw, "Jessie Brown," who doubles as a half-breed Indian with magical powers. But her concerns always have to do with how families are affected by events great and small. "1863" is about two brothers who go off to war, to the dismay and confusion of their family, and with predictable results. (The date seems an odd one. The Civil War started in 1861, and the early exuberance of the song's young narrator doesn't seem consistent with a point two years into such a bloody struggle. Maybe he didn't read the papers.) Elsewhere, siblings, children, and parents are ever-present, right to the end with "Peace of Mind," when Shuffield contrasts common domestic pleasures with the start of the Iraq War. It's not a very intellectual approach to the issues she raises, but it has emotional resonance, and as sung in her warm voice with its well-rounded tones over appealing folk-rock arrangements, it is often compelling.

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