Essential New Music: Shannon & The Clams’ “Onion”

Based on the strength and maturity of the fifth album from vocalist/bassist Shannon Shaw and her Clams, every studio session should shadow tragedy. Onion was cut one month after the December 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fire in their native Oakland, and their writing focused on the importance of identity and community to the general human condition.

With the band ensconced in Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville, a layered-yet-vintage, warm, highly analog sound ensued. Auerbach taps into his inner Bert Berns as a producer, finding each song’s emotional core, pitching every note to a shrieking, hysterical climax, all instruments and vocals reaching tape as intimate as a lover’s whispered plea. Onion’s an alternate 1962 AM-radio top-13 chart, where Del Shannon cuts a “Runaway” sequel (“Backstreets”) as a response to the aforementioned fire, and the wailing, pleading “If you ever change your mind” hook on “The Boy” is number one.

—Tim Stegall