Sunday, June 17, 2012

Record of the Month

I figured I'd do a monthly 'what I'm listening to' kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it's my blog! So there!  

Shawn Colvin has a new disk out - All Fall Down.

In certain ways, I feel I should wait a month or 12 to review this disk, but it's the only new music I have to write about.

The reason for my potential delay is how long it took for her Whole New You disk to grow on me. If you read fan reviews of that disk, it seems to be people's least favourite Colvin disk. It's Shawn's least favourtie too. For me, it ranks as her best.  I'm not sure what that says about me - or her / them.

But i took me a while to get there with that one.

Her last disk, These Four Walls, save 3-4 songs, really quite bored me. I could not get into it. I still can't. But I had hope for her new disk. For the first time in a long time, she was not using John Leventhal as a producer. While I think overall their collaborations have gone well, I can see a need for a break/change, but I'm not sure Buddy Miller was the wisest choice for the job.

While Colvin clearly has worked with him in the past, her music is more centered around folk-pop than country-bluegrass, which are his strengths.

The result is a very mixed disk in terms of success. It doesn't suck, but it doesn't shine.

I was disappointed to see the track list included "Fall of Rome". Originally it was released as a bonus track on Whole New You (2001) if you bought the Borders version. That original track is leaps and bounds better than the rerecorded version here. And it's already been done, so I feel short-changed a track since this is her first disk in six years.

Ditto with "American Jerusalem" which has been kicking around out there since before her debut back in 1989.

With the title track, it starts so promising - and Bill Frisell's guitar work is nice and different, but I'm not a fan of the chorus at all, or at least the execution of it.

But highlights of the disk, for me, are "Seven Times the Charm".  While Jakob Dylan, who has never impressed me, has co-writing credit, the song really has a Leventhal feel (who also has writing credit). Leventhal also co-wrote three others, including the title track.

Oddly, if not looking at the credits, I would have assumed that "Anne of the Thousand Days" would have been the Patty Griffin co-writing credit, but it's not.  However, the execution of the song is pure Griffin-style. Eerily so.

I have never understood artists having guests that fail to use their talents. Alison Krauss appears on two songs and while she has a uniquely distintive voice, she sings co-melody as opposed to the harmony that not only would have benefited her, but the songs as well.  Jakob Dylan's is no better, but you already know my thoughts about him.

I can't quite pinpoint it, but the mediocrity of All Fall Down seems to come down to Miller's production. I'm a fan of his writing and playing with some artist, especially his wife, but it doesn't mean he's right for this project. I get the idea of stripping some of the music down even further than Colvin normally does.  I get the idea of recording it in more of a live setting for spontaneity. Yet it just misfires.

It's not a bad disk, but you can see where the whole effort could have shined and it had more potential. I never expected it to be like any of her other releases, but I did expect more.

From my perspective, Colvin has always represented better live than via recordings - and oddly, she does better when it is her and a guitar and no band.  I'd still like to see some of these songs in a live setting, but All Fall Down, isn't a must-hear or must-have disk.

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