"It's never too late to fight for what you want" -- Tracy Shedd.
Tracy Shedd's helpful reminder on the opening track "Never Too Late" from Cigarettes & Smoke Machines, her latest album of smart, pointed pop is a direct and economic assertion backed by sharp musicianship and just the right amount of reverb. Cigarettes & Smoke Machines is Shedd's most accomplished record in a career that has now spanned four full-lengths.
Raised in a music-friendly home -- growing up with piano lessons and a public address system in the living room to practice Patsy Cline on -- Shedd found punk rock as a teen and morphed into a singer-songwriter wrestling with a love of distortion. Also a fan of artists that drape their vocals in various shrouds (My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, The Jesus & Mary Chain), Shedd decided that she never really wanted her vocals up front, an edict that permeated her previous recordings. Now, with Cigarettes & Smoke Machines, Shedd lets go and we benefit from vocal performances that establish the arresting emotional core of her latest record.
The album comes at just the right time, too. Now that declarative female songwriters like Liz Phair and unheralded classics such as Bettie Serveert's Palomine are finally being celebrated, Cigarettes & Smoke Machines appears just when its audience is ready to identify with it. "What ever it takes, don't let them break you down," Shedd sings on "Whatever It Takes." What's the hardest part of goodbye? Shedd makes you wait for the answer on that track. When we find out that it's "why," we nod our heads. "Remember The Time We Set The Highway On Fire" takes the record in a different direction where the guitars take over and Shedd's connection to The Cure's nine-minute moments are more evident. Shedd's co-existing vulnerability and strength make for convincing, winning and relatable songs that you'll need to hear again and again.
It's been a long road to this level of compositional confidence for Shedd. Letting go of a lifetime of music theory made it easy to write a batch of songs within weeks of first picking up the guitar and Shedd's first album Blue was quickly produced in her then-home of Boston. Counting the infamous DC band Unrest as an influence (the Sarah Records oeuvre and The Softies come to mind as well), Shedd had aspirations to be signed to Unrest leader Mark Robinson's label Teenbeat Records though she knew that he only signed DC-based groups. She decided to give it a shot anyway.
Robinson was convinced and Shedd was signed to Teenbeat which released her debut in 2002. In 2003, Robinson went on to produce Shedd's second album, Red and a third LP, Louder Than You Can Hear appeared on the Devil In The Woods label the next year. Shedd then "got domesticated," and moved to Tucson where the heat "slowed her down" and provided the time needed to craft her most inspired album.
Cigarettes & Smoke Machines brings Shedd back home and is now her third album for Teenbeat. Shedd's place on the Teenbeat roster has obviously grown stronger throughout the years and it's an immense pleasure to see that at a time when the record industry is in a state of "huh?" a record as worthwhile as Cigarettes & Smoke Machines can appear on a label as true to itself as Teenbeat.
Teenbeat's beautifully packaged releases are often as of note as the musician's work that they house and Cigarettes & Smoke Machines' jacket is yet another in the long line of meticulously crafted Teenbeat sleeves. The photo of a blindfolded girl in profile that graces the cover is that of one of Shedd's best friends during her upbringing in Jacksonville. Shedd has had the photo since 1996 and held on to it thinking she would one day use it in relation to her music. It spoke to her twelve years later and is now the stark and stunning image that represents her latest and greatest.
This time around, it's not about being the next best thing to Shedd. Cigarettes & Smoke Machines is her most definitive and easy to climb into statement to date. It truly isn't too late to fight for what you want and this time Shedd really got it.
Cigarettes & Smoke Machines featuring guest appearances by John Girgus, Brian Espinosa, Richard Dudley, James Tritten, Craig Schumacher & Joey Burns and produced by Craig Schumacher will be released by Teenbeat Records on 09/23/2008. Shedd is also available to chat about her involvement in organizing the Pot Luck Conference (www.potluckcon.com), a yearly gathering of engineers, producers and musicians passionate about signals, sounds, music, and recordings.