[Disclaimer: While I do not know, nor have I ever met Shellee Coley, I have known her producer for several years.]
My affection for Amy Grant knows few bounds. As opposed to just about anyone else who’s ever been anything close to a “superstar” in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) circles, Mrs. Gill has never had a problem singing real songs about real life situations, no matter how rough or uncomfortable things might be. Whether we’re talking about her magnum opus (Lead Me On), her big “crossover” pop record (Heart In Motion), or anything else in her canon, there’s something true and uncompromisingly honest about her music. Much like her “secular” country/folk-rock contemporaries, she’s never been interested in sugarcoating her inner struggles just to sell a record or score a hit single.
Houston, TX singer-songwriter Shellee Coley possesses those self-same lyrical propensities in spades, which makes her debut release, The Girl The Stencil Drew, undeniably appealing. Sonically, this is an extremely accessible, should-be-radio-friendly blend of folk, country, and pop akin to Grant’s Behind The Eyes and Patti Griffin’s Flaming Red. But more importantly, these six songs feature the sort of straight-from-the-kitchen sentiments about married life and figuring out adulthood that should ring true to those of us who have thankfully grown too old for teenage paeans about naïve love.
Moreover, the album is highlighted by a classy, pinpoint production aesthetic, one that puts Coley’s vivid voice up front-and-center. Her expressive, dusky alto, sits up tall over the instrumentation, which itself is big and full. There’s a distinct knack for balance and clarity on display here, complete with a keen desire to make sure that Coley’s lyrics are clearly heard, but without overwhelming the mix.
Led by “Uncomfortable” (a track about struggling with body image issues) and “I Want To Know” (a song about frustrations with unknowing and the accompanying questions), The Girl The Stencil Drew is a smart, sharp, taut little pop record. There’s nothing done to excess here, as everything from the production levels to the emotional levels seem to be in the right place and in the right amounts. And much like her stylistic influences, Shellee Coley knows how to tell a great story while allowing the listener room to place him/herself inside the song for even greater impact.