Michelle Shocked: Soul of My Soul

Erin Lyndal Martin

Michelle Shocked is fierce in love and war.

Michelle Shocked

Soul of My Soul

Label: Mighty Sound
US Release Date: 2009-05-26
UK Release Date: Available as import

In 2009, with Lilith Fair seemingly a part of ancient history, the craft and canon of female singer-songwriters is easy to take for granted. This perspective makes it easy to forget the women that were part of the movement since before it was a movement. Michelle Shocked's The Texas Campfire Tapes originally appeared in 1986 -- four years before Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe Records -- when Shocked had no idea that she would ever have a website, much less that its front page would feature a picture of her with the first black president.

23 years have passed since that release, and now Shocked has recorded her 13th album, Soul of My Soul, the third album released on her own Mighty Sound label. The biggest constant of each album is what is arguably Shocked's winningest quality: A sincerity that always breeds intimacy, whether it's dispersed by rage-fueled rock or confessional ballads. On Soul of My Soul, Shocked attempts not only to maintain her integrity, but "to jettison rage without losing the ability to feel strong feelings."

Among these strong feelings is, surprisingly, love. The 47 year-old is in love like a teenager, and she's not afraid to show it. The object of her affection, visual artist David Willardson, inspires many of the songs on Soul of My Soul. But rather than use her happy love to relegate her songs to the land of ponies and glittery unicorns, Shocked treats the romance as one of many situations which inspire strong emotion. She aptly introduces this new element of her music on the album opener, "Love's Song", in which she proclaims "love's song was never in my key" but ends with the realization that "love's song is singing me". Such lyrics would quickly get soggy in the wrong musical context, but "Love's Song" is a triumphant and catchy rocker that rises above sentimentality.

The rock comes more to the forefront of songs like "Waterproof", featuring Shocked riffing on jaded sentiments in lines like "the heart’s a four-chambered washing machine". The song ends in sweaty, grungy chaos and Shocked's confident "Your love so soft, warm and tender / Washes over me / Love was designed to be / Waterproof". "Heart to Heart" is another love song saved only by the hard-edged sincerity of Shocked's delivery, though a songwriter of her caliber can do much better than "Heart to heart / Hand in hand / Eye to eye / Face to face / We'll find the grace / That's ours alone / Two minds meeting / Two hearts beating as one". The ultimate love song on Soul of My Soul is the album's closer, which begins with a recording of Shocked calling Willardson and telling him that she's going to sing a song for him. That direct address infuses the song with rarified adult passion and the tenderness that can only come from such fire. When Shocked breaks into tears midway through the song, it's impossible not to wish her the same happiness one would wish a close friend.

Shocked's emotional current still runs both ways, though, and Soul of My Soul's other half is comprised of the straight-shooting political songs for which she is known. "Other People" is a somber breakup song between a woman and her country: "And when the neighbors all began to complain / You yell at me and tell me it's my treachery's to blame / I gave you my trust, but I'm taking back the same / For the things you are doing in our name". The disappointment in a nation's complacence gets turned up on "Ballad of the Battle of the Ballot and the Bullet Part I: Ugly Americans". "Oh how we love our denial, a comfort to cover up the shame / But the truth is standing on trial and I've got proof that we're all to blame", Shocked pronounces before confessing "I'm singing this because I am your Ugly American".

As any adult knows, love and anger are anything but opposites of one another. Whether directed to a man or to a country, it is the strength of one emotion that makes the other possible. Nobody knows this better than Michelle Shocked, and she combines the two things that rouse her passions with relentless rock and a delivery that is always earnest but never naïve.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.