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Posts Tagged ‘shawn colvin’

“Tougher Than the Rest”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 13, 2017

My adoration for Shawn Colvin knows no bounds.  As a songwriter, she pens intensely, deeply, personal songs that are somehow universal. As a performer, she can take other artists’ songs and turn them into her own intensely, deeply, personal experiences.  It’s a gift that as a music fan I do not take lightly.

In 1994, Colvin released Cover Girl, a collection of songs she loved by artists she loved; it is to this day one of my favorite albums.  In 2015, Colvin decided it was time to collect a few more covers and released Uncovered.  I finally got a copy for myself and although I don’t think it’s quite as passionately felt as Cover Girl, I think it shows her gift of turning covers into her own quite nicely.

Take “Tougher Than the Rest” for example.  This song by Bruce Springsteen originally appeared on his Tunnel of Love from 1987, an album that is full of some of his most intensely, deeply, personal songs (it’s his divorce album, presciently written and released before his divorce from Julianne Phillips).  Colvin switches a few pronouns, and presto, it’s her song not Springsteen’s.

If you know anything about Colvin’s history, you know how utterly heartbreakingly poignant this version is.  She imprints herself all over the romantic yearning for a real relationship.  She’s had a rocky romantic life, due in part to her struggle with mental illness.  When she sings the title refrain, “honey I’m tougher than the rest”, you know it’s true.  The last verse really gets to me.  She delivers it so quietly, so matter-of-factly: “Well it ain’t no secret, I’ve been around a time or two.  I don’t know baby, maybe you’ve been around, too.  But there’s one more dance.  All you gotta do is say yes.  If you’re lookin’ for love, honey I’m tougher than the rest.”  Her eyes show all the hope and fear those words encompass.  Just one dance, just one chance to prove she’s the one for him.  I like to think she did, but of course, that’s where the song ends.  There’s room for both love and heartbreak.  How the story turns out is up to the listener.

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Repost: “New Thing Now”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 17, 2014

Heat makes my brain malfunction.  So does being tired.  That’s the deadly combination that’s keeping me from a new post.  But here’s a nice oldie for your listening pleasure.  Please disregard anything about “new” Shawn Colvin material; this is two years old, after all.

I really need to start paying more attention. Sign up for more newsletters or something. I had no idea Shawn Colvin has a new album out. And a book. Finally, some juicy gossip by one of my favorite singer-songwriters EVER. Seriously, she’s fantastic. I posted about her way back when I started this thing and her cover of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” She inhabits the songs she sings in a way not a lot of people do. I don’t know for sure how autobiographical her songs really are, although this article calls her a “confessional singer-songwriter,” so I’m gonna assume that on some level she’s singing about herself–even when it’s someone else’s song.

“New Thing Now” is all Colvin, though, and it is such a sad, tender, acidic song. Yes, I did combine those three things; no, it is not a mistake. This is a love song with a nasty bite. It could be to a lover. It could be to a music executive. It could be about the entertainment press. The main point is not who it’s for, but the co-dependent relationship she finds herself in with that person(s). It’s a tug of war that she is not really happy about, but has accepted as part of her life. “This is your new thing now. Naked as a rose, everything exposed, but not quite. Cards out on the table, a genius with no label, but not quite.” She can see through the masks of the business, knows its ugliness but has to live with it, “just a poet and her pimps, but not quite.” She chose this life, but hates the way it eats into everything, tainting friendships and romance. The relationship she finds herself contemplating isn’t comfortable anymore, but she has to keep up the facade–for herself if no one else. “This is your new thing now, and it makes the whole world spin, it’s at least as old as sin, but not quite. This is your new thing now, and now you’re turning grinning, but maybe no one’s listening, and you might lose it all my darling. Yes, you might.” Almost as if she’s singing to a singer. Almost as if she’s singing to herself.

The most co-dependent relationship any artist has is with the art they’ve chosen. Colvin knows that music is the one thing she can’t let go of. Men, labels, reviews, audiences, whatever–they’ll all come and go. In the end, it will still be Shawn and her voice and a guitar and all the stuff she can’t say any other way.

“This is your new thing now, and it feels so good to doubt you, I could almost live without you, but not quite. Not quite.”

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“Sunny Came Home”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 16, 2013

Computer’s still hooked up.  They’re leaving the living room until last, because it’s, well, the room where most of the living gets done.  But paint is going on the walls in the room my mom will be in and in the room we’ll turn into an office, and it looks pretty good.

Houses and homes will probably be a theme with my posts for the next little while, and while “Sunny Came Home” isn’t strictly about a house, it is about remodeling.  After a fashion.

In a live recording, Shawn Colvin described her biggest hit as a “murder ballad,” which really did shed quite a bit of light on this enigmatic tune.  It has a thick, pervasive dread running throughout; even the plucked notes from the mandolin sound ominous.  You get the feeling Sunny isn’t entirely stable, “She says, ‘Days go by, I’m hypnotized, I’m walking on a wire.  I will close my eyes and fly out of my mind into the fire.'”  She returns home–it’s never made clear if this is her childhood home, or another home she has made–to clear her mind.  But the impression is that clearing her mind involves something a little more than having a cup of coffee and writing in her journal: “‘And it’s time for a few small repairs,’ she said.  Sunny came home with a vengeance.”

Just who has wronged or abused Sunny is about as murky as anything else in the song.  Parents?  Siblings?  The video features Colvin carrying scissors and tearing a wedding dress to shreds, so there’s a hint of romantic trouble.  Maybe it’s a cheating husband.  Whomever it is isn’t about to meet with a kind fate, however; “Count the years, you always knew it.  Strike a match, go on and do it.”  Sunny plans on fixing whatever has gone wrong with her life, and this seems like the place to start.

 

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Shawn Colvin

Posted by purplemary54 on June 19, 2012

I’ve posted about Shawn Colvin before, not even that long ago, so it feels a little excessive to be writing about her again so soon.  But she really is one of my favorite singer-songwriters.  And I think I have a little insight into what draws me to her, now.

Colvin just published a memoir, Diamond in the Rough.  My copy arrived from Amazon today around 2:00 pm; I’d finished it by a little after 7:00.  (Obviously, it’s not terribly long.  Her style is very easy to read, personable, like a conversation with an old friend.)  I also got her new album, All Fall Down, and I feel the same way about it right now that I do about all of her albums the first time I listen to them: the jury’s still out.  Colvin, for as much as I love her, is not a love at first listen musician for me.  I’m always a little unsure about her new songs.  I need a chance to live with them for a little while, get to know them before I make the commitment.  I felt that way when I sampled them on itunes, I feel that way after one listen.  There’s a new version of an older song, “Knowing What I Know Now,” which is pretty good, but not as good as the live version I heard first.  There’s a couple I already know I don’t particularly like.  The rest of it is going to have to get another listen or two.  She tends to be moody and atmospheric, moving from bitter to gentle sometimes in the same line.  Of course, having read her book, all of this is completely understandable.

Colvin writes very frankly about her struggles with clinical depression and her difficulties maintaining romantic relationships, as well as her alcoholism (and her sobriety).  These days, she has her mental illness under control with medication, but it took a lot of years of pain and perseverance before she even figured out what was wrong.  She also details the long road she took to artistic and commercial success, the many years of playing covers to indifferent audiences in dive bars, and her hard-won creative spirit.  Colvin confesses the supposed artistic sin of writing about herself, but this is only a sin if you don’t know anything about writing.  She’s a confessional writer, like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.  And that’s what I think pulls me in–the emotional honesty of her music is genuine and unforced.  That’s the thing I love most about music, the beauty of feeling and experiencing the world through another person, and finding a way to fit that world into my own, to understand that I’m not the only one that feels the way I do.

Her years and years of playing other people’s songs just lends itself to her ability to write her own music, but it also gives her this wonderful ability to inhabit these songs.  (I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the best cover song is one that is both new and old, one that belongs to the cover artist as much as it belongs to the original artist.)  My personal favorite?  “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).”  The Talking Heads original is a quirky electronic tune, the emotions hidden beneath synth and rhythm.  But Colvin transforms a cheerful if distant song into one of the loveliest, most heartfelt and intimate declarations of love I’ve ever heard.  The only versions she’s ever recorded were live, just her and her guitar.  It is still David Byrne’s song (and who knew he was such a sap?), but it becomes Shawn Colvin’s song as well.  It still brings tears to my eyes.  If I ever do get married, Colvin’s version of this will be my wedding march.

(Sorry about posting a clip that features nothing but and album cover, but the other live clips available had lousy sound quality.)

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“New Thing Now”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 3, 2012

I really need to start paying more attention.  Sign up for more newsletters or something.  I had no idea Shawn Colvin has a new album out.  And a book.  Finally, some juicy gossip by one of my favorite singer-songwriters EVER.  Seriously, she’s fantastic.  I posted about her way back when I started this thing and her cover of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”  She inhabits the songs she sings in a way not a lot of people do.  I don’t know for sure how autobiographical her songs really are, although this article calls her a “confessional singer-songwriter,” so I’m gonna assume that on some level she’s singing about herself–even when it’s someone else’s song.

“New Thing Now” is all Colvin, though, and it is such a sad, tender, acidic song.  Yes, I did combine those three things; no, it is not a mistake.  This is a love song with a nasty bite.  It could be to a lover.  It could be to a music executive.  It could be about the entertainment press.  The main point is not who it’s for, but the co-dependent relationship she finds herself in with that person(s).  It’s a tug of war that she is not really happy about, but has accepted as part of her life.  “This is your new thing now.  Naked as a rose, everything exposed, but not quite.  Cards out on the table, a genius with no label, but not quite.”  She can see through the masks of the business, knows its ugliness but has to live with it, “just a poet and her pimps, but not quite.”  She chose this life, but hates the way it eats into everything, tainting friendships and romance.  The relationship she finds herself contemplating isn’t comfortable anymore, but she has to keep up the facade–for herself if no one else.  “This is your new thing now, and it makes the whole world spin, it’s at least as old as sin, but not quite.  This is your new thing now, and now you’re turning grinning, but maybe no one’s listening, and you might lose it all my darling.  Yes, you might.”  Almost as if she’s singing to a singer.  Almost as if she’s singing to herself.

The most co-dependent relationship any artist has is with the art they’ve chosen.  Colvin knows that music is the one thing she can’t let go of.  Men, labels, reviews, audiences, whatever–they’ll all come and go.  In the end, it will still be Shawn and her voice and a guitar and all the stuff she can’t say any other way.

“This is your new thing now, and it feels so good to doubt you, I could almost live without you, but not quite.  Not quite.”

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“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 7, 2012

Once again, I’m choosing a less famous version of a pretty famous song.  Iconic, even.  Just about everything by Bob Dylan is sort of iconic, mainly because the man is an icon (something I’m sure he would sneer at).  Dylan, however, is also one of the best artists to cover.  His songs are very good and very rich.  Anyone can mine a Dylan song and find some previously undiscovered gem.

The Shawn Colvin version of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is, like all truly good covers, different in a way that doesn’t make the song sound unfamiliar but in a way that makes it new.  Dylan’s is wry and resigned, a joke that the singer doesn’t find amusing but can’t help laughing at anyway.  Colvin’s is. . .joyful, almost.  The general premise & impression is the same: the singer is caught up in a relationship that she knows is doomed to end, and she knows her heart will be broken.  The difference here is that she doesn’t care.  She knows her lover will leave, but she fully intends to enjoy him while he’s there.  She takes joy in the knowledge that right at this moment, she’s having a great time.  At the end of the song–”you’re gonna have to leave me now, I know”–she breaks down just a little; you can hear the sadness in her whisper.  But that’s the only moment of it.  The joy is recovered in the next lines: “But I’ll see you in the sky above, the tall grass, and the ones I love.”  This will be a wonderful memory, cherished.

That’s what makes a cover great.  Not how different it sounds from the original.  Or how much it copies the original.  It’s all in how the artist owns it.  When a cover is truly a good song in it’s own right, it is because it isn’t really a cover.  It’s a whole new song that evokes a whole new set of feelings in the listener.

(Sorry about the short analysis.  Still getting used to having something ready to go every day.)

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