Shelly Waters @ Utopia Food & Spirits

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Original Show Bill

shelly3-300x200The first time Shelly Waters met Moonwatcher Records’ owner, Joe Taylor, she found herself facing an impromptu audition. The veteran producer had heard Waters’ demos but needed to hear the voice devoid of home-production trappings. So he said, “play something for me and sing.”


“She got two bars out and that was enough,” recalls Taylor, who signed on to produce Shelly’s Moonwatcher label debut, Drive. “For me her voice has that indefinable ‘it factor.’ I don’t know how else to describe it. She’s got what Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris and other great, iconic singers have—a voice with such distinctive character that you can easily recognize it.”


The uniqueness of her voice may have something to do with the twists and turns of her story. Shelly’s musical journey started early in her hometown of Rayne, Louisiana.  From those early days of playing with a Cajun French music band, then fronting her own band (Shelly Pellerin & Southern Spice) to her Southeast coastal lifestyle today (Shelly and her husband actually live on a sailboat!), there’s a lot of life in the songs Waters writes and sings. When asked to name influences she runs down a list of names drawn from country, rock and Americana, but then she gets a little antsy.   “I never wanted someone to hear me in concert and say ‘wow, you sound just like so-and-so,’ she says. “I’m Shelly, that’s who I am.”


From intimate coffee shops to festival crowds of +10,000, Shelly has become a polished entertainer.  Most recently she has been an opening act for Loretta Lynn, Randall Bramblett, Hooray for the Riff Raff, Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble, Kim Simmonds, Savoy Brown, Jim Kweskin, Geoff Muldaur, John Primer, Drink Small, Beverly Guitar Watkins, Billy Boy Arnold and Robert Lighthouse.  She has also performed in the same line up as Kitty Wells, Mel Tillis, John Anderson, Mickey Gilley, Johnnie Allan and Joel Sonnier.   Shelly is an active member of the Americana Music Association and Nashville Songwriters Association International.


Shelly’s songwriting mines experiences for universal emotions. Inspired by a tiny bird that perched on her boat while she was miles out to sea, “Need To Rest” uses the metaphor to point to life’s little resting places. The title track, “Drive” is a poignant seize-the-day reminder, inspired by a never taken father-son road trip and a personal metaphor for Shelly’s revitalized musical journey. “Little Old House” conjures up childhood memories of her simple, humble upbringing.


The songs are rootsy, soulful and catchy, with “great hooks,” as Taylor notes, while Shelly’s sultry voice smolders at the center of the mix. It’s truly impossible to put Drive in one stylistic camp, owing to Waters’ gumbo of disparate influences. Both “Reaching for You” and “One and Only” (an homage to Patsy Cline) hearken back to the “swamp pop” of Waters’ upbringing—a regional subgenre perhaps best known for Phil Phillips’ 1959 hit “Sea Of Love” (later covered by Robert Plant and the Honeydrippers.)


On the other hand, “State Line” is mid-tempo rock with just the right touch of funkiness, while “She Waits” is a storytelling, acoustic-based ballad comparable to any big Nashville hit.  While there may be resonances with other iconic female singer/songwriters (both Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams come to mind) the product is “pure Shelly,” and a product of her undeniable creativity and soul.


In bringing her musical vision to life Shelly has been assisted by a merry cohort of copacetic sidemen, from Grammy-nominated Joe Taylor (who lends his formidable guitar skills) to well-known session pros Blair Shotts (Rihanna, The Roots) on drums, and Sean O’Bryan Smith (Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum) on bass and Randall Bramblett (Widespread Panic, Bonnie Raitt) on Hammond B3 and Rhodes piano. Famed New York City recording engineer Mark Richardson (Alchematic Productions) captured the sound at Salt Creek Recording Studio and Grammy winning mix/master engineer Chris Theis (Theis Mix) put the final touches on the project.


Perhaps as a testament to Shelly’s writing, singing and musicianship, the respected trio of Joe, Sean and Blair are leaving the cozy confines of their usual studio habitats to hit the road with Shelly. 

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