Album Reviews

Shawn Colvin – Live

(Nonesuch) UK release date: 6 July 2009

Shawn Colvin’s early albums of the late ’80s and early ’90s were marred by heavy-handed production that dampened the brilliance of her songwriting. The expertly crafted, intelligent takes on relationships and small-town living were viewed through the rose-tinted spectacles of mainstream country pop slickness. Colvin’s insight, wit, and zeal were then only instantly apparent during live performance, at first on New York’s caf� circuit and later on ever larger stages. So 20 years into a recording career, a live album is long overdue.

Recorded at San Francisco’s Yoshi over three nights while Colvin promoted her fifth album of original material, 2006’s These Four Walls, this career-spanning selection of songs could easily be a wish list for any fan, but also serves as fine introduction to a singer-songwriter who is frequently mentioned in the same breath as James Taylor, Lucinda Williams and Joni Mitchell.

With nought but her guitar and her voice, Polaroids’ bittersweet reflection on a lost love affair is crystal clear, as it never was on 1992’s Fat City. Ricochet In Time and Diamond In The Rough also benefit from the stripping back for live performance.

With no backing band, the performance is a lesson to any would-be solo singer-songwriter. Intricate and flawless finger-picked melodies support a vocal that at times shakes dust from the venue’s coving as on Shotgun Down The Avalanche and at others is as delicate and nuanced as pillow talk, as on Fill Me Up.

Nothing Like You is, as on 2001’s Whole New You, one of the driest, wittiest put-downs ever, and the subtlety of Colvin’s live vocal adds further layers of withering scorn to the three minute insult: “Did you ever see some one you knew, holding fast and staying strong and true – they were nothing like you.”

Always one with an ear for a cover, Robbie Robertson‘s Twilight and Talking Heads‘ This Must Be The Place get a loving Colvin Treatment, and the pared back version of Gnarls Barkley‘s Crazy is excellent.

If the album has any failings its that the energy of early performances has been replaced by the assured craft of a seasoned performer, such that Tennessee, Matter Of Minutes and Diamond In The Rough lose an edge and Colvin’s between-song humour is conspicuous by its absence. One just wishes that a live recording from 15 years or so ago had been included as a bonus disc.

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