A Few Small Repairs

Shawn Colvin

Columbia, 1996


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on January 21, 1997]

Evaluating singer-songwriters is a lot like taking one of those dating-website personality compatibility tests (other than the high cheesiness factor of the latter, of course). The music scene's James Taylors and Mary Chapin Carpenters and various wannabes of either gender tend to bare their souls to the listener in all-too-human (and often endearing) ways, in a plea for some kind of acceptance or affirmation of their perspective. This dynamic makes for strong reactions—generally either you find the artist's exposed inner self so compelling and interesting that you'd love to spend a week just talking with them, or the personality tics they put on display make you wonder what the melting temperature of a CD is, anyway.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Shawn Colvin makes it into the former category in my book with A Few Small Repairs, her fourth album. Taking a few cues from friend Carpenter and contemporary Sheryl Crow, Colvin explores both deeper inside herself and farther across the musical spectrum with this smart, challenging piece of work. In collaboration with producer/co-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist John Leventhal (probably best known for his work with Michelle Branch, Marc Cohn and Rodney Crowell), her music here for the most part takes on a rougher, rootsier sound (I hear both Lonesome Jubilee-era Mellencamp and White Album-era Beatles) even as her lyrics grow both more complex and tougher around the edges.

A couple of favorites, "Sunny Came Home" and "Suicide Alley," feature strong melodies under Colvin's alternately wispy and gritty voice as she tosses out memorable lines narrating an escape from domestic nightmares (the former song) and a poetic plea for a friend's life (the latter). (Colvin and Leventhal ended up winning a Grammy for “Sunny Came Home,” which they co-wrote.)

The languor Colvin projects in quiet songs like "Trouble" is released with stirring results on harder-edged numbers like "I Want It Back," while her pre-eminent confessional song, "If I Were Brave," strikes a deceptively pretty rhetorical blow for the single people we married parental types too often grace with our uninvited pity.

I don't know about trying a week just yet, but an hour with Shawn Colvin is in this case an hour well-spent.

Rating: B

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