Taking charge

Shepherdess puts Hilken Mancini in the lead
By BRETT MILANO  |  September 10, 2007

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PEAKING: Shepherdess establishes Mancini once and for all as one of the best songwriters in town.

Shepherdess, "Aquaplanagerie" (mp3)
If Hilken Mancini’s ego were bigger, her new album would be billed as the career breakthrough, the big statement she’s worked up to after being co-singer/guitarist in one well-liked band (Fuzzy), playing guitar in another (the Count Me Outs), making a duo CD with a fellow local hero (Buffalo Tom’s Chris Colbourn), and becoming a small local celeb (with friend Megan Jasper) by masterminding Punk Rock Aerobics. But Mancini’s ego is rather modest, so the new disc — the first to feature her as the main singer/writer, lead guitarist, and defining personality — is instead the homonymous debut of a new band, Shepherdess (on Kimchee). The other players were all around for her previous incarnations. Winston Braman is the top-flight bassist who was in Fuzzy before joining Come and Consonant. Drummer Mike Savage was in the Count Me Outs (and the Philly band Fudge beforehand); violinist Emily Arkin played with Mancini during her short-lived acoustic phase. And Mancini is . . . well, to hear her tell it, she’s an okay songwriter who wound up with good bandmates.

“I’m just lucky to be playing with these guys,” she says during a group interview at the Independent in Union Square. “I don’t think I’ve made that much of an impression on the local scene. Hell, I’ve been around for a while. If I was that good, I would have had a hit or a publishing deal by now. I’m always going to write songs — it’s just what I do and I can’t help it. And somehow these awesome people want to play with me.”

Her bandmates see things differently. “I think she’s hitting a real peak in her development as a songwriter,” offers Braman. “She’s finding her own voice — not that she didn’t have one before, but I think that now you can hear one of her songs and know right away that it’s her.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she shoots back. Turns out that another writer lately referred to her in print as a “warhorse,” a term she didn’t find complimentary. “Rock is a young man’s game and I hate it, but I still love songwriting. I’m not very musically inclined; I write songs that are emotional more than I know what I’m doing technically. What’s really great is when you can write a good hook and you can convey emotions, and you can do both of those things at the same time. Take a song like [Buffalo Tom’s] ‘Taillights Fade’ — you hear that song and you think, ‘That’s it, I get it.’ Have I reached that level yet? No way.”

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