"Shawnee Kilgore is to music as velvet gloves are to diamond cutters,” wrote James Hardesty, owner of the Green Frog Acoustic Tavern in Bellingham, WA. “She holds all this beauty in her hand, raw and untouched, then she chips away until it gleams in the light, holding on with a soft gentleness that she has perfected.”
Look up her name these days and you will likely find it linked closely to one of Hollywood's most prominent directors, Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Avengers)—and for reasons that have nothing to do with his latest blockbuster movie, The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The two are writing songs together.
In March 2014 Shawnee launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her fourth studio album, A Long and Precious Road, making her case via tribute to Dylan's iconic Subterranean Homesick Blues (though feeling shy about doing it in an actual alley stuck to her home office instead). Written among the cards was, “I'm learning how to ask for help.” It was this vulnerable and honest phrase that struck a chord for Whedon, who, loving her music and her voice, backed the project, taking the first step towards what would become the unlikeliest of creative partnerships. After a mere four months they released Big Giant Me, the first single from a six-song EP they began recording in L.A. this January. “It was so clear that we were speaking the same language,” Joss said in an exclusive interview with BuzzFeed when the song was released. “It's been a little bit magical.”
A Long and Precious Road was released last August, making it to Texas Music Magazine's Albums of the Year list as well as earning her the magazine's #1 Singer-Songwriter of Distinction spot at the start of the year. The album's single, My Devil Says To Me (also known, perhaps more lovingly, as The Folk Star Song), encompasses what people love about her, and her music, the most: humility, honesty, truth and grace.
Shawnee would be the first to tell you that the video for Folk Star was shot on a whim after coffee one Saturday morning, or that the boots you just complimented her on cost $3 at a thrift store. She'll give the real answer when you ask how she's doing and she's just had her heart broken. That's the honesty with which she breathes, and the honesty with which she writes. “When you gonna be a folk star/my devil says to me/'cause you can do it all for freedom/but you can't do it all for free” is the opening verse that cuts straight to the heart of every musician who's ever had a bad day. Listen once to Broken Anymore, the gentle burning lighthouse of Long and Precious, and she gets to the heart of everyone else, too. “It's time to live the life I'm given/time to give what I've been asking for,” she sings with a rawness of emotion that will softly dismantle your heart, dust it off, and help you put it back together again. “If I pretend that I'm not breaking/honey maybe I'm not breaking anymore/maybe I'm not broken anymore.” Shawnee sings to you about all the things you know—love, life, laughter and loss—but does so with such fiercely personal and poetic truth that you can't help finding, and understanding, your own world through hers.
“One of the year's finest albums,” wrote Tom Buckley, editor of Texas Music Magazine. “With a compelling voice at once uplifting and heartbreaking, delicate and wounded, and with melodies dexterous and irresistible, Kilgore has, in one bold move, established herself as an important presence in folk music. This is a gorgeously crafted work.”
Shawnee's move to Austin, TX from northwest Washington in 2010 was somewhat accidental, but has proven to be a good one. A Long and Precious Road was crafted at Congress House Studio, and includes the talents of some of Austin's finest—folks like Matt the Electrician and Danny Schmidt, whose music she has loved for years, and who now feels the same way about hers. “Shawnee Kilgore is that rare breed of songwriter who can lead you through familiarity and somehow always end up with you somewhere surprising,” wrote Danny. “Her songs are personal and intimate, snapshots of tiny images very close up, of little observations so familiar and yet so keen that they reconnect us to our every day while somehow managing to disconnect us from our every day enough that we can notice the preciousness of what’s always surrounding us. It’s a hell of a nifty trick! Shawnee’s in my very highest category of songwriter: Those whose next song I can’t wait for them to write.”