Shea Seger's lush, emotionally evocative debut album is a musical tale of two cities. It brings together the blues and R&B she heard growing up near Fort Worth, Texas, with the dance beats she discovered after moving to London two years ago.
"London is where I got my love for hip-hop and dance music," said the 20-year-old Seger, who released The May Street Project on June 5. "But the classic groove comes from my upbringing. I couldn't separate those sounds or genres just to make a record that would neatly fit somewhere."
The mix is evident on the album's opener, "Last Time," which is already receiving heavy airplay on "adult album alternative" radio stations. The tune combines Nashville strings with hip-hop beats and electronics, and it sounds more than a little like Dusty Springfield on Pentium.
Don't be fooled by what sound like drum loops and samples, though. "Most of the drums people think are loops or samples are live," said the singer, who also plays piano but stuck to vocals for the album. "I love loops, but the sound's authenticity is important to me. The live drums make a huge difference to me."
Seger credits her music-fanatic father with introducing her to Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, although she says her biggest influence is Tom Waits, another musician who combines traditional styles with experimental sounds.
She sees The May Street Project as the culmination of her first 20 years, which saw her win a scholarship to a Virginia theater school, where she rejected stage musicals as too emotionally detached for what she wanted to express. Songs such as "Clutch" (the first single) and "I Love You Too Much" are personal accounts of romantic obsession and loss, although she tries to avoid sounding like she's just singing a page from her diary something else she learned from Waits.
"I write for sanity's sake, not for recording material," she said. "I'm working on keeping the stream-of-consciousness thing within reason, like Tom Waits."
Seger co-wrote most of the album's songs. Among the more moving of these is "Always," a loping country ballad she sings with Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith, whom she met at a performance many years back. "I just called him up to say, 'Look, here's this song I've fallen in love with, and it's actually one I didn't write,'" she said of the tune penned by producer Martin Terefe and musician Nick Whitecross. "'And seeing as how you didn't write it either, we might as well make it ours!'"
Seger opened a few dates for David Gray last spring and hopes to put together her first headlining tour this fall.