Music

Shawn Colvin: Uncovered

Colvin seems satisfied just to find material that lets her pass for the older but wiser girl. She’s no sheboopi.


Shawn Colvin

Uncovered

Label: Fantasy
US Release Date: 2015-09-25
Amazon
iTunes

You have to wonder why Shawn Colvin put Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest” first on her most recent album of cover songs in more than 20 years. Not only is she competing with the Boss’s version, Colvin takes on Emmylou Harris’ successful country-style version. Colvin’s rendition is a bit slower and her protagonist more worn down. She may be just dancing in the dark looking for the spark, but Colvin’s character actually sounds like she’s been around, rather than just boasting like Emmylou and Bruce’s personae. The song is an odd introduction, as if she’s proclaiming her best is over but she’s not quite done yet.

There’s hints of that elsewhere, particularly on covers of Tammy Wynette’s yearning “Till I Get it Right”, John Fogerty’s reflective “Lodi”, Gerry Rafferty’s melancholic “Baker Street”, and Graham Nash’s pensive “I Used to Be a King”. Colvin painfully sings that the best days are behind her. That may be true. Her voice lacks the range and dynamism she had decades ago. That’s normal and part of the aging process. But many talented artists find ways to use experience as a way to add to their palette. Colvin seems satisfied just to find material that lets her pass for the older but wiser girl. She’s no sheboopi.

That doesn’t necessarily make the disc a bad one as much as a lazy one. There are times Colvin’s strategy works. She makes Tom Waits’ laconic “Hold On” into a country & western ballad complete with a tear in one’s beer. Colvin is almost upbeat on Crowded House’s sentimental “Private Universe” and clearly enjoys her duet with Marc Cohn on Brenton Wood’s soulful love song, “Gimme a Little Sign”.

Perhaps the low-energy found on many songs is based on the arrangements. No drums can be heard, with the exception of a few percussion instruments. The rest is acoustic and pedal steel guitars, plus Colvin’s singing. As a result, the songs are mostly sung at a slow pace. While Colvin offers tunes by some of the greatest songwriters of the past 50 years such as Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and Robbie Robertson, these artists know that not every word needs to be annunciated clearly the way Colvin does.

Cover albums are hard. When one records familiar songs, as does Colvin here, the listener immediately compares them to the originals. One competes at a disadvantage. Colvin needs to bring something new to the songs, but for the most part does not perform them much differently than the older tunes. These do not claim to be the real thing, but why we need copies is not clear.

That could explain why the most satisfying track here is Colvin’s version of Robert Earl Keen’s dreamy “Not a Drop of Rain”, which is the album’s least known song. Colvin nicely captures the mix of failure and promise expressed by the narrator, who can find joy in watching children at play and others in love even though the singer sees the promise of personal happiness as a mirage. Colvin conveys the combination of sentiments as a jumble rather than a blend. Life is not perfect. In fact it may suck. But one can still suck the joy out of what it is as long as one lives and breathes.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image