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VOL. 124 | NO. 125 | Monday, June 29, 2009

Marshall’s Latest Effort Combines Memphis, London Sounds

By JONATHAN DEVIN | The Memphis News

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FROM THE SOUL: Memphian Susan Marshall’s recently released third solo album, “Little Red,” includes covers of soul classics and her own upbeat takes. -- PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN MARSHALL AND MEMPHIS PUBLISHING

Memphis soul singer Susan Marshall said she “really gets off on harmonizing and singing backup” for other artists, and to that end, she has a list of credits with various touring artists the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Lucinda Williams.

With “Little Red,” her third solo album released in May on MADJACK Records, Marshall said she hopes to step out of her comfort zone and into some spotlights of her own.

“Soul is a real release,” Marshall said. “It feels good to open up and let every emotion you have out. It’s indulgent, but all art is. You’re letting out something that you want to express and you’re hoping that someone out there gets what you’re expressing and says, ‘Hey, me too.’”

“Little Red” includes Marshall’s own songs and covers such as John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” Greg Dulli’s “Going to Town” and Lou Reed’s “Femme Fatale.”

The title track, written by Marshall, showcases just how indulgent – and erotic – soul can be while featuring Marshall’s strong pipes and her propensity to howl on occasion.

“Wouldn’t you say that it’s getting rather late/

He said why don’t you stay?/

I got some games we could play/

I didn’t say no/ I should have said no/

Heaven knows how hard I tried/

Hold on to your skirt Little Red/

Once more the wolf is circling your woods.”

“I don’t ever sing a song the same way,” Marshall said. “That’s the biggest appeal to me – the freedom. It’s all you, there’s no reading the notes. I’m not a good rule-follower.”

Marshall, originally from Utah, lived in Oregon, California and New Mexico before moving to Memphis with her family. She studied visual arts, drama and singing at Germantown High School and credits music teacher Sarah Savell with much of what she learned vocally.

“It was such a great environment to learn in,” said Marshall, referring to her school days. “(Savell) really kept a close eye on me. She taught me Mozart and Puccini. It was great.”

“Little Red” follows Marshall’s debut album, “Susan Marshall is Honey Mouth,” and “Firefly,” which is the first to feature her own songwriting. “Little Red” took two and half years to produce and was recorded in Memphis at Ardent Studios and Young Avenue Sound and in London.

“Memphis and London have always shared this fascination with each other musically,” she said. “Some of my songs are very driven from where I’m living now. I think that ‘Already Gone’ is very Memphis. Some songs like ‘Even if it Takes a Lifetime’ to me is very London.”

Marshall seems to have a knack for taking sad lyrics and singing them with a smile in her voice to an almost danceable beat as she does in the gospel/blues song “Oh My Soul,” which she wrote after the death of her mother, and in “Back to You,” the tempo and instrumentation of which are reminiscent of big band/swing.

“I’m partial to ‘Oh My Soul,’” Marshall said. “Recently, the person I co-wrote it with passed away of cancer, so it has a new special meaning to me. I think it’s got an uplifting quality to it.”

Marshall said her favorite vocal artists are all over the map, ranging from Kallen Esperian to Joni Mitchell and from Aerosmith to Ella Fitzgerald. But listening carefully, one can hear shades of such artists as Sarah MacLachlan in the lyrical, haunting “Femme Fatale,” and Jewel in the dynamically percussive “It’s Hittin’ Me” – the most pop-oriented track on the album.

Marshall shines the brightest, though, when using her voice to its fullest volume, which is considerable, in the wailing climax of “Little Red.”

“I’ve been both criticized and praised for that,” Marshall said. “I’ve had some people say to me, ‘You need to simmer all this down, you don’t need to be so big,’ and I just think, why? Most artists do what they feel at the time. That means leaving the comfort zone. It might not always be pleasing, maybe not even to you, but it’s a process.”

“Little Red” is available at area music stores.

For more on Marshall, go to www.susanmarshall.net or www.madjackrecords.com.

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