What: Nightfall concert series featuring Shannon McNally.
When: 8 tonight. Ryan Oyer Band opens at 7 p.m.
Where: Miller Plaza, corner of M.L. King Boulevard, Cherry and Market streets.
Venue website: www.nightfallchattanooga.com.
The Ryan Oyer Band is fronted by local Brit-pop influenced singer/songwriter Ryan Oyer, a frequent performer at area open-mike sessions.
For more information, see his website at www.reverbnation.com/ryanoyer.
Listening to Shannon McNally is a bit like straddling the point in the Mississippi River where the waters divide to lap on either shore.
On the one hand, the slight twang to her vocals and the occasional slide-steel whine hint at a love of alt-country and folk singer/songwriters such as Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.
On the other, her soulful croon and a back beat of rolling organ and shimmering guitar hint at the equal influence of artists such as Ray Charles, Nina Simone and The Byrds.
That sound mimics McNally's wide-ranging career, which started in her native Long Island, N.Y., shifted around the country from Los Angles to New Orleans and finally came to rest in the heart of northern Mississippi's hill country in Oxford.
"I write American music, and those are all pretty critical places," McNally said in a recent phone interview during a break from touring with North Mississippi Allstars and Black Crowes lead guitarist Luther Dickinson.
Tonight, she will headline Nightfall for the concert series' first show after a two-week break for Riverbend.
McNally's first love was the "powerful" songs of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. She said she found the Gainesville, Fla., rocker's music tremendously emotionally affecting when she attended a concert at age 15.
"I remember thinking very, very specifically, 'Oh good God, I want to do that. I want to be that guy right there. Sign me up, coach,' " she said, laughing. "The songs were so powerful, and at that time, there was nobody bigger."
Over the course of a career that has seen her supporting artists ranging from Dr. John and Charlie Sexton to Stevie Nicks, McNally has established herself as a hard-traveling, no-nonsense songwriter.
She said the no-nonsense bit is her guiding light when it comes to writing new songs.
A former student of anthropology, McNally said she continues to feel an almost academic need to study people and craft sincere songs that reflect the truth and force people to think.
"So much that is pushed at us in our culture is so patronizing," she said. "People deserve better, and I think there are people out there seeking that out. If there are, I want to deliver that.
"For everyone else looking to have a good time, we can do that, too."