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Shelley King

The Highway – 2002 (Lemonade)

Reviewed by Clarissa Sansone

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CDs by Shelley King

Austin singer and songwriter Shelley King had been establishing a solid local following since her arrival in 1992, but when Toni Price covered two of King's songs on "Midnight Pumpkin," King's songwriting talent became firmly established, earning her several Austin Music Awards. With the release of her second album, King displays her prowess with the pen as well as her pipes.

King, who has described herself as a "naturally happy person," sounds like she's having a darn good time here, which is a testimony to how energetic her live shows must be. Even when she sings of lost love, she sounds joyful and hopeful. The 12 songs run the gamut from commercially viable Americana to zydeco to soul- and gospel-tinged roots music. The first half effectively evokes the wide-open, sultry landscape of East Texas and Louisiana, but the songs are not as interesting, musically and lyrically, as the ones that follow. Most of the songs on the second half tone down their country element and let more a more soulful sound through, which suits King's big, un-cryin'-in-your-beer voice.

Much is made in reviews of King's gospel background (singing in church in Arkansas), and that early training comes through in her vocals. While King can be ebullient, she is also capable of singing with a smoky tone of wisdom to her voice, as in "Walk On" and "Who Needs Tears," whose lyrics are equally wise. Not merely a singer-songwriter, King is both singer and songwriter. (P.O. Box 33097, Austin, TX 78764)