McNally's 'Small Town Talk' pays tribute to Bobby Charles

May 19, 2013

Two recent projects have raised Shannon McNally’s profile over the past year or so, but collaboration is just one of the singer-songwriter’s strengths.

“Small Town Talk,” McNally’s current tribute to Louisiana legend Bobby Charles, and “Go On Now, You Can’t Stay Here,” last year’s album subtitled “Mississippi Folk Music Volume III” with the Wandering – Luther Dickinson, Amy LaVere, Valerie June and Sharde Thomas – speak to her wide-ranging musical curiosity. This is a woman who has made a half-dozen studio albums since 2002 and whose songs have built a loyal following.

So if it takes Charles, the writer of tunes such as “See You Later Alligator” and “Walking to New Orleans,” or a cover of “Mr. Spaceman” done Mississippi style to help people discover McNally as well, that seems like a fair deal.

McNally produced “Small Town Talk” with Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), a longtime friend of Charles. McNally broached the idea in 2007, and Charles was intimately involved in the project until his death in 2010.

“It’s been a lot of Bobby Charles, especially since December,” says McNally, who plays Molly Malone’s in Covington Wednesday with her band. “But the reception to the record and the shows has been wonderful, so it’s been very nice.”

McNally journey began on Long Island, N.Y., went through Pennsylvania during her college years, and landed in Los Angeles where she recorded her debut, “Jukebox Sparrows,” which was released in 2002. By that time, she had decamped to New Orleans with future husband Wallace Lester, who is the drummer in her band. At an earlier point, however, he worked in a record store and knew how to impress a woman.

“He did woo me with a Bobby Charles record and Dr. John’s biography,” McNally says. “After living there (New Orleans) for a while and experiencing everything that was there, I was all in.”

As with many people, though, Hurricane Katrina changed McNally’s life. The family lives in Holly Springs, Miss., with their young daughter Maeve, who will join mom and dad on the road later this summer. For now, guitarist Will Sexton, bass player Jake Fussell and Matt Hubbard on keyboards and horns are the traveling companions.

McNally poured her soul into “Small Town Talk,” and tells writer John Swenson that the opportunity to work with Dr. John (“Mac” to his friends, such as the co-producer) was more than special.

“I was over the moon about working with Mac, just walking on air,” McNally says. “That piano sound … that classic approach … the level of authority that he brings to a song. Add to that the history of these songs and the sessions just felt magical. I couldn’t have been happier or more excited to get to do this.”

McNally deserves whatever accolades come her way from this record, and kudos for helping shine a light on one of America’s unsung songwriters. But one wonders if she is delaying the great record of her own by using so much energy on these projects.

It’s an easy leap to imagine McNally’s own music made with some of the people she has worked with: Rebennack, Dickinson, Derek Trucks, Greg Leisz and Sexton’s brother Charlie, just to name a few.

By all means, enjoy these collaborations and tributes. They are delightful. But keep the faith that McNally becomes a little selfish on her next project.

Shannon McNally, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Molly Malone’s, 112 E. Fourth St., Covington, 859-491-6659,, or

She'll be live in the studio with Keegan at 5:30 that same day.