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ALBUM REVIEW: Shantell Ogden – ‘One Step Closer; Songs To Recover By’



Few would contest the power of music to heal but an album of songs recorded and distributed with the specific purpose of aiding recovery is something a lot rarer. ‘One Step Closer; Songs to Recover By’, the new album from Shantell Ogden aims to do just that. All nine songs are about recovering from various forms of addiction and the physical copies will be sent to help those in addiction recovery programmes. Ogden is perfectly suited for such an ambitious project with her perceptive songwriting and a voice layered with empathy and hope. Her backing musicians set a scene for Ogden to convey reality made starker by her sparse acoustic approach. This is what classic country music is all about.

With so many already struggling, the global pandemic has tipped so many more precarious lives into the abyss of overdose and addiction. The reasons are many; stress, financial strain, depression, and isolation. Some victims were in her own family so Ogden got down to writing. The recording was fully fan-funded and not seeking any profits Ogden is sending copies straight to specific programmes helping addicts recover and regain their lives. This is music at its most practical.

Regular readers will be familiar with Shantell Ogden who followed her own musical muse from a farm in Utah to Nashville. Six albums on, her rich expressive classic country voice and frank storytelling has won her deserved acclaim. Dave Smith, who plays most of the other instruments, deserves high praise for his production. He hits just the right balance of support that adds to the purity and range of Ogden’s voice.

Opener ‘St Augustine’ immediately sets a scene familiar all over the USA, “Mick was from Gainesville, raised up on Petty/gators and cypress, shotgun and Bud Light” Then “the world does him wrong” and in no time he was “in a dance with the devil at the end of a needle”. It’s the speed of the descent into drug abuse that is so tragic. Ogden could be the coal miner’s daughter such is her power of relating the story of those in distress. 

Ogden extends the desperation of being at rock bottom in ‘High Way Calls’. “The low road is waiting, when the high way calls”. The tempo is languid, the mournful acoustic chords amplify Ogden’s voice laden with the weariness of the alcoholic’s repetition. Yet she does not condemn. 

‘Devil Comes Knockin’ takes further ghostly steps into the hell of addiction. The tempo quickens as Ogden warns, “the black train calling/don’t open the door/ that’s the devil come knockin'”. Her voice could be calling from another world as Smith’’s electric guitar line blazes a trail straight there.

But this is not a fire and brimstone condemnation of bad ways. Ogden offers hope. Melodically and lyrically ‘One Step Closer’ offers tentative steps to sobriety. There will be may a slip on the way but the message is clear, keep trying. Sonically she offers a light that burns brighter on ‘Meet Yourself’, a redemptive musing about not hating yourself, what’s done is done, just keep looking ahead. ‘Hand Up’ is a prayer to the determination needed, “You know I’m going to win this war”. The chorus has a gospel round to it that intensifes the feeling of togetherness and sharing.

In ‘One Step Closer; Songs to Recover By’ Ogden deals head-on with the horrors of substance abuse faced by so many. She does not judge, and she does not offer a quick solution either. To quote, “It’s my job to tell the truth about what I see and feel—and tell stories about real life”. With sympathy her words, melodies and her voice certainly achieve that aim and above all, she extends hope. For that she deserves every success with this project.

Pre-order/pre-save here:

Lyndon Bolton

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