Shannon Clark & the Sugar are the kind of group that infuses their music with deeply personal stories and inviting sounds that feel like family therapy sessions.
The trio, composed of Shannon, Brittany, and Navie Clark, has been using songwriting as a way to heal and grow together since 2019, with a unique sound they have branded as “Midwestern Americana Soul”.
Growing up, Shannon’s mother was a notable radio DJ; spending time with her in the studio and at concerts was where he found his love of music. He and Brittany grew up in the same small town, and met when she filled in on drums for his band. This expanded to being part of a mid-2000’s Warped Tour representing Ohio, Shannon and Brittany became a musical power couple. Then, after the shock and heartbreak of losing their second child, the duo took a break from touring; the music never stopped though, as the couple used the power of writing as a coping mechanism.
From there, passion in their music only grew, and eventually led to the release of their live album, “From Memorial Hall.”
The trio’s sophomore album, Marks on the Wall, is a collection of soulful, personal songs tackling the human condition, loneliness, and moving on. Produced by Grammy award-winning Mark Howard – who most notably has worked on albums with artists including Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and U2 – Marks on the Wall is an ambitious blend of styles and sounds that creates a record that Howard says, “has the magic.”
“Let It Ride” was the first single released off Marks on the Wall, with a moodier, organic sound to the instruments that contrasts the production on much of the album. The chorus’ harmonies and wailing electric guitar feel almost like an old-western movie kind of song, with the message of keeping yourself going, even through the toughest of times.
Similarly, “Thousand Times”, which is one of my personal favorites on the album, deals with the residual feelings after a failed relationship; written by Clark for those who feel like they can’t move on, “Thousand Times,” incorporates soulful instrumentation and vocal line over an electronic drum beat evocative of the Kid-A Radiohead era. The three-part harmony in the chorus ties the song back to Americana roots, creating a sound that is a unique blend of soul and modern electronic rock.
One of the album’s more brooding pieces, “Red River” begins with a deceptive fiddle intro that goes almost immediately into a heavy bass line. The harmonies throughout create an easy transition to the fiddle’s return in the chorus, which ties all of the song’s elements together very neatly. Inspired by a true story about Clark’s great-grandfather, “Red River” reflects on mental taxation driving people to desperation and pleads for softer judgment of others. Clark has also always found “gritty hills tunes” to be very good at painting a landscape, that is what they did with “Red River,” both in sound and lyrics.
The album’s penultimate track, “Little Darlin’” is the kind of song that gets stuck in your head, even after the first listen. With a talk-box guitar at the beginning, it’s immediately catchy – the whistle in the bridge and overall a feel-good sound leave a smile on your face and the tune in your head. Featuring Navie’s solo voice at the end, “Little Darlin’” is a lighthearted and simple ode to Clark’s grandparents, who met at a barn dance as teenagers.
Deeply personal and authentic, Marks on the Walls is an album that leaves you feeling like you know Shannon Clark & the Sugar. If you’re looking to get more familiar, the group has shows lined up for late August and early September all around Ohio, and hopefully more widespread tours on the horizon.