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Shawn Colvin

Contemporary folk music has such an American identity that its hard to split the wood from the trees, but in Grammy-award winner SHAWN COLVIN’s case, she’s rose above the chaff and is one of the leading exponents of her genre.
Born Shanna Colvin, January 10, 1956 in Vermillion, South Dakota, her formative years were spent travelling around the country, residing in Texas and New York City (at the Fast Folk cooperative in the Village) via London, Ontario; she’s since re-settled in her childhood abode of Carbondale, Illinois. Inspired by JONI MITCHELL from as far back as her schooldays, COLVIN met up with future producer/co-scriber John Leventhal, while her first real job in the biz was as a backing vocalist for SUZANNE VEGA – the latter starlet duly returned the complement by doing similar on Shawn’s debut set STEADY ON (1989) {*8}. Although the record only just bubbled outside America’s Top 100, it managed to win COLVIN her first Grammy trophy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Seductive and almost provocative, her best moments shine through on `Ricochet In Time’, `Diamond In The Rough’ and the title track.
Grammy nominated once again, Shawn’s sophomore set FAT CITY (1992) {*7} – this time with producer Larry Klein and a plethora of worthy session people – was another stab at the rootsy radio-friendly AOR market. Her girl-with-guitar formulaic approach seemed to be paying off when COVER GIRL (1994) {*4} entered the Top 50. Led by a minor UK hit “cover” of The POLICE’s `Every Little Thing (S)he Does Is Magic’, her interpretative muse was in full flow through TOM WAITS’ `(Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night’, GREG BROWN’s `One Cool Remove’ (another UK hit), Willis Alan Ramsey’s `Satin Sheets’, JUDEE SILL’s `There’s A Rugged Road’, Roly Salley’s `Killing The Blues’, Tom Littlefield’s `Window To The World’, STEVE EARLE’s `Someday’, ROBBIE ROBERTSON’s `Twilight’, JIM WEBB’s `If These Walls Could Speak’, TALKING HEADS’ `This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)’ and BOB DYLAN’s `You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. On reflection, let’s just say this was indeed a surprise Grammy nomination in the “folk” category; back to basics, COLVIN was featured with VICTORIA WILLIAMS on JULIE MILLER’s 1995 album `He Walks Through Walls’.
Thank goodness then for her proper follow-up A FEW SMALL REPAIRS (1996) {*8}, undeniably her best album so far. Her musical collaborator Leventhal also taking the plaudits, while she was overcoming a messy divorce in ’95 from her partner Simon Tassano – it seemed a star needed a few heartaches along the way before hitting their creative peak. With the delightful `Sunny Came Home’ (a Top 10 single) and the darker `Get Out Of This House’ on board, the album was a gamut of emotional demons and lyrical resolutions. One wonders why then she chose to follow it up with a seasonal/festive set of trad/old-timey songs in HOLIDAY SONGS AND LULLABIES (1998) {*5} – not particularly career enhancing.
Continuing to work with producer, co-writer and multi-instrumentalist Leventhal, WHOLE NEW YOU (2001) {*7} brought Shawn back into circulation, but it just missed out on the Top 100. Wed to photographer Mario Erwin in ’97, Shawn had her first child, daughter Caledonia Jean-White, a year later, but the marriage was over by 2002. The album itself was understandably bright and breezy, recorded at a time when life was amiable and, while there were no stand-out tracks, her fans could be content with `A Matter Of Minutes’, `Another Plane Went Down’, the title track and her piece with EDIE BRICKELL, `Roger Wilco’.
While it took another five years for her new label Nonesuch to let go THESE FOUR WALLS (2006) {*7}, COLVIN was coy but concise to wonder if she’d left it late in the day to win back the buying public. Armed with trusted retainer Levanthal, drummer Shawn Pelton and saxophonist Rick DePofi, there was also room aboard for PATTY GRIFFIN and MARC COHN on the track, `Cinnamon Road’, and TEDDY THOMPSON on `Let It Slide’. Once again left to languish just outside the Top 100, the smoky COLVIN shined on originals `Venetian Blue’ and the title track, plus covers of PAUL WESTERBERG’s `Even Here We Are’ and the BEE GEES’ `Words’.
A three-night residency at San Francisco’s Yoshi’s jazz club in 2008, inspired the now 50-something COLVIN to release LIVE (2009) {*6}; virtually a collection of her finest selections which marked time before another period of studio inactivity.
A six-year break was all but forgotten with ALL FALL DOWN (2012) {*7}, a record that showcased special guests JAKOB DYLAN, EMMYLOU HARRIS, ALISON KRAUSS, guitarists Buddy Miller and Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade. Not your typical Nashville recording, Shawn’s organic constructions had heart and soul, while lyrically, `Anne Of The Thousand Days’, `Change Is On The Way’ (scribed with PATTY GRIFFIN) and `Knowing What I Know Now’, matched the reserved moods of cover versions, `Up On That Hill’ (MICK FLANNERY), `On My Own’ (B.W. STEVENSON) and `American Jerusalem’ (ROD MACDONALD).
Linking nicely to 2015’s follow-up UNCOVERED {*6}, the Joni-esque COLVIN freed up her mind to sing the songs of her peers and idols. Not her most fruitful album to date (clocking in at a lowly #175), the “Cover Girl” brought a subtle touch to songs by SPRINGSTEEN (`Tougher Than The Rest’), PAUL SIMON (`American Tune’), RAFFERY (`Baker Street’) – featuring DAVID CROSBY, TOM WAITS (`Hold On’), GRAHAM NASH (`I Used To Be A King’), CROWDED HOUSE (`Private Universe’), STEVIE WONDER (`Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away’), BRENTON WOOD (`Gimme A Little Sign’) – with MARC COHN, The BAND (`Arcadian Driftwood’), CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL (`Lodi’), ROBERT EARL KEEN, JR. (`Not A Drop Of Rain’) and Larry Henley & Red Lane (`’Til I Get It Right’).
Not short of a few re-vamps in its own right, her subsequent singer-songwriter collaboration with “Copperhead Road” country star STEVE EARLE, COLVIN & EARLE (2016) {*6}, worked well within the confines of folk-pop for the seasoned 60-somethings. Very much in the “Copperhead…” tradition, `Come What May’ was matched by the gospel-rock of `Tell Moses’, while the gruff-grits-n-glitz of `The Way That We Do’ and `You’re Right (I’m Wrong)’, soared above token re-appraisals of JOHN D. LOUDERMILK’s `Tobacco Road’, JAGGER & RICHARDS’ `Ruby Tuesday’, SYLVIA TYSON’s `You Were On My Mind’ and EMMYLOU HARRIS’ `Raise The Dead’.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Jun2016

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