Shannon McNally's Jukebox Sparrows Finally Takes Flight

Singer/songwriter was signed in 1997, but debut album has only just hit stores.

If patience is a virtue, then Long Island-born singer/songwriter Shannon McNally could well be the most virtuous woman in the music biz.

Armed with a voice that's as intimate as it is powerful, McNally explored her craft in coffee shops and bars during her college days, and then she flexed her musical muscles further while busking on the streets of Paris. Her sultry brand of roots rock eventually landed her a deal with Capitol Records in 1997, and then the waiting game began.

"I think there was a lot of over-thinking going on [at the label], but I don't regret the time. I used it and I enjoyed it," McNally said last week. "It was frustrating, but I used it. I studied and contemplated and meditated."

She also used the time to record her debut album, Jukebox Sparrows, which has been in the can since 1999. Flaunting the influences of The Band, Tom Petty, and Little Feat, McNally's earthy, smoke-ringed vocals weave tales of devotion, dedication and unbridled passion. Her rich guitar work and all-star roots-rock support from the likes of Jim Keltner (Bob Dylan, John Lennon), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Johnny Cash), Greg Leisz (Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris), and Bob Glaub (Jackson Browne, John Fogerty) keep the atmosphere appropriately soulful.

Despite the album's strength, McNally would spend more than two years riding out internal changes at her label and gigging relentlessly across the U.S. before seeing her debut arrive in stores last week. McNally filled her days with opening slots for Stevie Nicks, Ryan Adams and Victoria Williams and a spot on 1999's Girls' Room trek alongside Amy Correia, Kendall Payne and Tara MacLean. When she wasn't honing her craft live, McNally modeled for Urban Decay cosmetics and released the six-song Bolder Than Paradise EP in June 2000.

"It was very frustrating because I couldn't really get on with anything else," McNally said of the wait. "I had this whole life and this whole career and all of these ideas that were backing up, and I couldn't move forward and I couldn't move backwards. I couldn't let go, and at times I just didn't know how I was going to hold on. But I really believed in the record, and I believed in my motives for making the record, and I believed in the people I had worked on the record with. ... It was definitely frustrating, but if it's not uphill, it's not a mountain."

With the release of Jukebox Sparrows, McNally's career finally seems to be charging full-speed ahead. The singer's first single, "Down and Dirty," is hitting radio, and she's already set to perform her second single, "Now That I Know," on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (January 23) and "The Late Show With David Letterman" (March 26). She's also already run the press gauntlet, turning up in People, Blender, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Esquire, Pulse, Alternative Press, Request, Interview, Stuff, Details, Flaunt, National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and MTV News' You Hear It First new artist showcase.

While most would celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited release like the conclusion of an arduous uphill hike, McNally remains laid-back about it. The day after the album was delivered to stores, McNally still hadn't headed out to see it on shelves for herself. Hey, she's waited this long ... and the way she sees it, there'll be plenty of time for that later.

"I'm conscious that I'm trying to build something that will last a really long time," McNally said. "I don't think it will be quick or easy."