Shawn Colvin has a storied past. Her career began with her initial move to Austin where she got her start as part of a western swing band. She then made a foray into folk music, relocating to New York City, playing with Buddy Miller with whom she’d later develop an ongoing musical relationship, performing off-Broadway and eventually playing a role in the so-called fast folk movement that sprung up in Greenwich Village in the early-‘80s Her first big break came when she was hired to sing backup vocals on the song “Luka” by Suzanne Vega, gaining her a recording contract with Columbia Records which led, in turn to her well received debut album Steady On, a record that brought her a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Her sophomore effort, Fat City, also received a Grammy nomination, while the featured song from that album, “I Don’t Know Why,” garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal category.
Colvin’s return to Austin in the mid-‘90s marked another key move in her trajectory, spawning several significant recordings, including a best selling album (A Few Small Repairs) which also brought her Grammys for both Song and Record of the Year and a number one single on the Adult Contemporary charts for “Sunny Came Home.” Yet despite her singular accomplishments, Colvin’s always had an affinity for covering other people’s songs. Cover Girl, released in 1994, was her first significant step in that direction. Likewise, her 2009 set, Shawn Colvin Live found songs by Gnarls Barkley, the Talking Heads and Robbie Robertson alongside a dozen of her own compositions. At the same time, she took time to contribute to recordings by other artists, James Taylor, Sting, Bela Fleck, Edwin McCain and Shawn Mullins among them.
Given that it’s been 21 years since the release of Cover Girl, Uncovered could be considered a sequel of sorts. Here again, Colvin culls the set list from the efforts of others. In a way, it’s more adventurous than before, due not only to the diversity of her sources (Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Stevie Wonder et. al.), but also to the stripped down approach which finds her sharing the spotlight with producer Steuart Smith’s acoustic guitar and little else in the way of additional accoutrement. David Crosby and Marc Cohn make cameo appearances, but it’s Colvin’s facile vocals that brings a melancholy quality to songs such as “Baker Street”, Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest”, Graham Nash’s “I Used To Be a King”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi”, and Robbie Robertson’s “Acadian Driftwood”, a tune originally recorded by the Band. Colvin and Smith take these songs down to their emotional essence without sacrificing the melodic strains that made them so memorable to begin with. There’s a purity here that might have been hinted at in the original, but which strikes at the core of these renditions with diligence and determination.
As a result Colvin adds further credence to her already solid resume, branding herself as an interpreter with a specifically unique perspective. Anyone who’s enjoyed these songs as they once were will find additional delight in Colvin’s remarkable reincarnations.
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