Shawn Colvin settles in for four nights at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in Minneapolis this coming Wednesday. I’m attending in support of my anger management therapy; I bought tickets for all four nights. If you’re within shouting distance of the Twin Cities you might want to pay us a visit.
Shawn is a singer/songwriter/interpreter who achieved stardom with the Grammy-winning pop hit “Sunny Came Home” on A Few Small Repairs in 1997. Taylor Swift called on her to appear magically coming up through the floor (on a hydraulic lift, like Paul’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night) during a 2011 performance in Austin, Texas — Shawn’s current hometown. Swift testified to her inspiration by Shawn. You can see the video of the song shot by someone in the audience at that show here.
I tuned in to Shawn with her first three major-label recordings. Her Grammy-winning Steady On in 1989 was followed by Fat City (1992) and Cover Girl (1994). These recordings all struck a nerve with me.
In 2012 Shawn released the compact disc All Fall Down and the memoir Diamond in the Rough. “It’s a double opportunity to fail,” Shawn told the New York Times. In her memoir Shawn recounts her self-discovery as a writer and performing artist while struggling with alcoholism, anorexia, addiction and persistent depression. You can hear the struggles transformed in her music.
She opens the book with a confession: “I see my life as pretty much starting when I heard the Beatles.” Indeed, her music is confessional in the singer-songwriter mode. In her case, however, the confessions hark back to the poet Anne Sexton and her famous struggles with depression. Shawn took the epigraph of her memoir from Sexton: “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” I find her to be a compelling artist.
She opens her second album with her own song “Polaroids.” Writing the song, she struggled to find an ending. It finally came with a twist courtesy of a dream, just as it says in the song. In the live version below, the bass line sounds like the artist’s heartbeat. I love this song and this version. “The vows that we never keep…”
On Cover Girl she first collected a set of songs written by others. She is a brilliant interpreter. The disc is full of knockouts. One such is Jimmy Webb’s “If These Walls Could Speak.” You can’t help but feel the personal connection she finds to Webb’s lyrics. I don’t think any clip captures her artistry better than the amateur video below of Colvin performing Jimmy 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.
I thought Shawn must have written “Crazy” the first several times I heard her perform it. Instead, she identifies with it so completely that she turns it into a personal anthem. The original is by the soul duo Gnarls Barkley (Cee Lo Green et al.).
Shawn last appeared at the Dakota for three nights in 2016. I attended all three shows. Coming off a break from touring, she changed up the set lists each night. On night 2, I think, someone asked her to perform “Twilight,” the Robbie Robertson song from Cover Girl. She demurred, saying she was rusty on the lyrics, then performed it as an encore. “We’ve all got certain trials burning up inside.” Listen up!