I wrote briefly here this past Sunday about songwriter Jimmy Webb and posted a video of his song “All I Know” with Linda Ronstadt contributing the harmony vocal. I want to stick with Webb for another week or two. Next week I’m thinking we’ll turn to his relationship with Glen Campbell.
This week I want to take a look at Shawn Colvin’s performance of one of Webb’s buried gems. Shawn is a brilliant singer/songwriter/interpreter who achieved stardom with the Grammy-winning pop hit “Sunny Came Home” on A Few Small Repairs in 1997. I don’t think anything eclipses her first three recordings beginning with the Grammy-winning Steady On in 1989, followed by Fat City (1992) and Cover Girl (1994), each one of which is full of four-alarm songs.
In her memoir Colvin documents how she has overcome alcoholism, anorexia, depression, and misadventures with unworthy men (my description, not hers) in the course of an accomplished career. You can hear a lot of her struggles in the music in addition to her unconflicted love of the Beatles, with which she opens the book. Her music is confessional in the traditional singer/songwriter mode, but I think her lyricism, her bite, and her travails also hark back to Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.
She is a compelling live performer and interpreter. On Cover Girl she explores songs written by others and, by my lights, it is full of knockouts. One such is Webb’s “If These Walls Could Speak.” You can’t help but feel the personal connection she finds in Webb’s lyrics:
They would tell you that I’m sorry
For being cold and blind and weak,
They would tell you that it’s only
That I have a stubborn streak
If these old walls could speak.
YouTube is full of good videos showing Colvin in performance on television and in concert. I don’t think any clip captures her artistry better than what appears to be the amateur video below of Colvin performing Webb’s song as an encore before an appreciative audience at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano in December 2011. Her eyes well up with tears as she sings that touching chorus.