As Shawn McDonald approaches the ten-year mark of his extraordinary career, he stands at the crossroads of reflection and anticipation. To mark this unique period, which simultaneously finds the singer/songwriter approaching seasoned status while still bristling with his most ambitious ideas to date, the Eugene, Oregon native turned Columbus, Ohio transplant releases The Analog Sessions (Sparrow), a collection split between nine re-recorded hits and fan favorites, plus two entirely new tunes.
"When you release a traditional greatest hits record these days, usually people just go to iTunes to download the new songs, so the idea was to re-record everything to give the songs a fresh and different approach," suggests McDonald of this clever bookend for the first chapter in his continuously compelling musical evolution. "When I was talking to my longtime producer Chris Stevens, he proposed an idea of recording at an old school studio where we'd record live to tape just like they used to do. I didn't even know if those places still existed, but we found Welcome To 1979 studio, which used to be a record pressing company back in the day. There were no computers, just tape machines, vintage amps, crazy old keyboards and I even sang on a microphone Frank Sinatra used for years."
Indeed this old school approach (better known as "analog" like the album's namesake so proudly proclaims) is definitely different than any modern day disc McDonald has recorded thus far, not to mention one of the most determined. "Analog is warmer and sounds better naturally, especially the way the tape naturally absorbs vocals," continues McDonald of the retro-minded decision. "But tape is a tricky thing, and if you mess up, you have to rewind it and punch in the corrections, so you just have to hope you get it. The reality is we just recorded live without stopping, trying to get all the way through without messing up. There's no stacking, overdubbing vocals or any of that studio stuff you might find on my regular records."
Not only did McDonald nail each and every vocal note with impressive, unadulterated authenticity, but recording The Analog Sessions with his touring band made the already tight players bond together even more flawlessly. "I've never played with this caliber of band members before and they're all very tasteful musicians who really help me to grow," he ensures. "It's been a really fun experience to grow with them, build a live show and then create a record that sounds like the live show. We've been living with the older songs and played them a million times, so they weren't as difficult as the new ones."
As for the older tunes contained therein, the fellas put a fresh coat of paint on already celebrated singles like "Gravity," "Captivated," "Closer" and "Rise," but they also dug deeper into McDonald's catalogue for gems like "Eyes Forward," "Beautiful" and "Take My Hand." The set list took shape as a result of what songs seemed to be connecting most with listeners over the years, both from airwaves and concerts, alongside a few of the troubadour's personal favorites that deserve a second chance.
As for the current cuts "What Are You Waiting For" and "Through It All," they appear in both analog contexts and fully-produced radio versions under the direction of Stevens. The lead single "What Are You Waiting For" finds McDonald playing the role of an encourager who urges believers to never stand on the sidelines or watch life pass them by, but rather, live life to the fullest without fear. Come "Through It All," the tunesmith returns to his personal side, shedding additional light on a troubled upbringing that still finds him wrestling with God on certain occasions. Even so, McDonald comes to the conclusion that His love never changes and transcends all our mistakes, making it a true anthem for mercy and grace birthed out of a genuine, ongoing spiritual transformation.
"I'm never a guy who thinks I've arrived because my journey is a lifelong thing," McDonald muses. "I'm always trying to better myself and grow because the instant you stop learning, you start to die. I'm in a season of growth right now, just really striving hard to be more intentional, to hone my craft and to not just give part of my heart to it, but to wholeheartedly be faithful to the gifts God has given me. I want to impact the world, be a part of change and see the kingdom of God become real and active in people's lives."
With that point of view in mind, it's no surprise to find McDonald having a much greater goal for The Analog Sessions than simply showcasing his undeniable artistry. Even though that's probably enough to entice a true fan's purchase, the message of his entire spiritual journey thus far most certainly takes center stage, especially in light of this distinctive recording format.
"I hope listeners hear the heart of these songs in this stripped down format," he sums up. "I think longtime fans will enjoy hearing a new feel for the songs they've fallen in love with over the years, and for newer fans, this project can also be an introduction of where we came from."