The early years — a little, blonde-haired Rayne girl performing at local festivals and special events —- local fans still remember Shelly Pellerin belting out popular tunes as she fronted a live band. Today, Shelly Pellerin Waters can be found singing songs from her new “Drive” CD under Joe Taylor’s Moonwatcher record label.
The first time Shelly Waters met the Moonwatcher Records’ owner, she found herself facing an impromptu audition. The veteran producer had heard Waters’ demos but needed to hear the voice devoid of home-production trappings. So he said, “play something for me and sing.”
Waters briefly flashed back to judging panels at youth beauty pageants, but quickly complied. “She got two bars out and that was enough,” recalls Taylor, who signed on to produce Waters’ Moonwatcher label debut, Drive. “For me her voice has that indefinable ‘it factor.’ I don’t know how else to describe it. She’s got what Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris and other great, iconic singers have — a voice with such distinctive character that you can easily recognize it.”
The uniqueness of Waters’ voice may have something to do with the twists and turns of her story. From a childhood in south Louisiana Cajun country to her Southeast coastal lifestyle today, there’s a lot of life in the songs Waters writes and sings. When asked to name influences she runs down a list of names drawn from country, rock and Americana, but then she gets a little antsy. “I never wanted someone to hear me in concert and say ‘wow, you sound just like so-and-so,’ she says. “I’m Shelly, that’s who I am.”
Waters’ songwriting mines experiences for universal emotions. Inspired by a tiny bird that perched on her boat while she was miles out to sea, “Need To Rest” uses the metaphor to point to life’s little resting places. “Drive” is a poignant seize-the-day reminder, inspired by a never taken father-son road trip and a personal metaphor for Shelly’s revitalized musical journey. “Little Old House” conjures up childhood memories of a simple, humble upbringing.
The songs are rootsy, soulful and catchy, with “great hooks,” as Taylor notes, while Waters’ sultry voice smolders at the center of the mix. It’s truly impossible to put Drive in one stylistic camp, owing to Waters’ gumbo of disparate influences. Both “Reaching for You” and “One and Only” (an homage to Patsy Cline) hearken back to the “swamp pop” of Waters’ upbringing — a regional subgenre perhaps best known for Phil Phillips’ 1959 hit “Sea Of Love” (later covered by Robert Plant and the Honeydrippers.) On the other hand, “State Line” is mid-tempo rock with just the right touch of funkiness, while “She Waits” is a storytelling, acoustic-based ballad comparable to any big Nashville hit.
While there may be resonances with other iconic female singer/songwriters (both Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams come to mind) the product is “pure Shelly,” and a product of her undeniable creativity and soul. In bringing her musical vision to life, Waters has been assisted by a merry cohort of copacetic sidemen, from Grammy-nominated Joe Taylor (who lends his formidable guitar skills) to well-known session pros Randall Bramblett (Widespread Panic, Bonnie Raitt) on Hammond B3 and Rhodes piano, Blair Shotts (Rihanna, The Roots) on drums, and Sean O’Bryan Smith (Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum) on bass. Famed New York City recording engineer Mark Richardson (Alchematic Productions) captured the sound at Salt Creek Recording Studio and Grammy-winning mix/master engineer Chris Theis (Theis Mix) put the final touches on the project.
Perhaps as a testament to Waters’ writing, singing and musicianship, these respected musicians are leaving the cozy confines of their usual studio habitats to hit the road with Shelly, playing dates that include shows with Loretta Lynn and Hooray For the Riff-Raff.
“These players just love Shelly,” Taylor enthuses.
And surely Acadiana locals will enjoy Shelly’s new CD, “Drive.”
(Shelly is the daughter of Jimmie and Charlene Pellerin of Rayne and a 1986 graduate of Rayne High School.)