Shannon Stephens – The Breadwinner

stephensAn old friend and former bandmate of Sufjan Stevens (no relation), Shannon Stephens’ new album, The Breadwinner, is full of hymns to domestic life, where small is beautiful and love is learned the hard way. Stephens has been covered by Bonnie “Prince” Billy on his 2008 album Lie Down in the Light, and has been lauded by critics for her “gut-punch” lyricism. After nearly a decade in hiding, The Breadwinner is her attempt to give songwriting and recording another go. On top of the clucking of hens and short orchestral blasts, “Hard Times are Coming” is an instructive testimony to her daughter, on which she warns “all kingdoms go and flourish, then they decline, all that they’ve won unrighteously becomes their own undoing eventually.” The Breadwinner provides plenty of fertile ground to explore the meaning of love, home family with an apocalyptic eye to the future. Although some of these songs, like “In the Summer in the Heat,” remain unmemorable, the albums shortcomings are quickly made up for with the spiritually resonant “Come to My Table,” which finds Stephens at her most affective, crooning like Eva Cassidy, pondering work, rest and communion. The Breadwinner can be rather bland at times, but if soft-spoken, spiritually aware singer-songwriters are your thing, this one’s a winner. (Asthmatic Kitty, Jonathan Dyck