Photo Credit: Joan Bowlen
Having been a member of the Fast Folk movement of the late 1980’s, Shawn Colvin
is no stranger to the folk tradition; however, she continues to assert herself as a thoughtful and talented pop/folk hybrid, bridging the expanse between storytelling and catchy melodies that come out of both genres. From her Grammy-winning debut Steady On
(1989) to 2006's These Four Walls
, Colvin has sung the story of her life with a disarming blend of melancholy and poetic mischievousness, yet rounded it all out by making her journey utterly relatable. As she herself often states during her live performances, “these aren't necessarily happy songs,” but people come back time and again because her work continues to play to the depths and emotional sinews of the human experience.
During her annual residency at San Francisco’s Yoshi’s jazz club, Colvin yet again dazzled the audience with a superlative performance. First off, Yoshi's provides the ideal venue for her music, in that its table seating that fits roughly 420, the sound system is top of the line and the intimacy of scale allows Colvin to converse easily with her audience, flowing seamlessly between songs and stories . In fact, she felt so at home while at Yoshi’s that she used one of her previous residencies to record her acclaimed 2009 Live
Colvin has spent most of her life touring these songs and has developed an easy rhythm to her performance—every album is represented during the set, along with a few of her favorite covers and shout-outs from the audience taken into consideration. During this tour however, Colvin is mixing things up a little with the debut of two new songs from her upcoming album, thereby providing a promising glimmer of what’s in store come June.
The night began with a contemplative version of the Bee Gees' “Words,” delivering a sparse yet haunting introduction that very aptly states much of Colvin's lyrical aesthetic with the final lyric, “It's only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.” At the end of the song, she turned to the audience, smiling, and jokingly said, “That was a Bee Gee's cover. Guess you know how the rest of the night is gonna go.” But then she launched into particularly visceral take on early single “Another Long One,” which, despite being about an inability to love someone effectively, is anchored by a very up-beat rhythmic cadence and the lyrics are wry and self-deprecating—encouraging heads to bob along and people to softly sing along with her and her “well-intentioned spite.”
After three songs, Colvin got conversational—remarking on how much she loved the Bee Gees and Journey, and then asking the audience to name some of their guilty musical pleasures. Taylor Swift was called out among the confessions, launching Colvin into a humorous recollection of playing a duet of “Sunny Came Home” with Swift in a 15,000-person arena back in October, 2011. She recited the anecdote with charming reenactments and her signature dry delivery, inducing hearty laughter from the crowd throughout. After the commotion died down, she launched back into the set with a wistful rendition of Fat City
's centerpiece “Polaroids.” followed in quick succession by one of her new songs, “Seven Times The Charm,” which was co-written with Jakob Dylan. The song is as seductive and bittersweet as the character her lyrics describe, “And we go once down the aisle/Twice round the stars/You had all the persuasion of a snake on my arm/And seven times the charm.” The gentle strum of her guitar provided a captivating backdrop to the lyrics' poetic futility.Photo Credit: Joan Bowlen
“Change Is On The Way,” another of the new songs, came shortly after. Colvin co-wrote the piece with friend and fellow folk singer Patty Griffin. While not exactly happy, the song engenders a feeling of hopefulness and conviction beneath its delicate melody and minimal lyrics. The compositional stylings of both artists come through in this piece, making it sound at moments like a perfect complement to both of their catalogues. Having been translated via Colvin’s instrument, however, “Change Is On The Way” is a delightful blend of their individual sounds.
In the second half of the show, Colvin shifted the dynamic with two guest appearances. Kate Markowitz, who most notably is one of James Taylor’s backup singers, came out to sing harmony on six songs. Markowitz provided a pleasant and subtle depth to Shawn’s sound, embellishing songs such as Colvin's cover of “Hold On” by Tom Waits and Judee Sill's “Rugged Road.” However, it was the surprise appearance by Jane Siberry
to play “Calling All Angels” with Colvin that really marked the evening as special among the hundreds of concerts Shawn has performed throughout the years. Siberry has always been a personal inspiration for Shawn, and even inspired the lyrics for Fat City
’s “Kill the Messenger.” During her introduction on stage, Colvin stated that Siberry's music “would leave me so distraught with the thought that I could never write like that. She would light a fire under me.” This performance went to a level beyond the normal homage—the song afforded an integration of both sounds, the influenced and the influential, on one stage.
Colvin's last offering, a gorgeous cover of Jimmy Webb’s “If These Walls Could Speak,” provided a fitting close to a show that touched all aspects of her oeuvre: from the revisiting of early records, to the testing of new material in its infancy and to the stories—both personal and professional—behind the songs. Folk music is a historical tradition, dependent on a respect for, and an acknowledgement of, the music that has come before and that shapes the present. Shawn Colvin has an acute awareness of where her music comes from—whether from the artists who have inspired her or the personal experiences that have demanded expression—and she declares them all with a masterful poetry that leaves audiences in little doubt that they have seen one of the modern day's great troubadours.Photo Credit: Joan Bowlen
Words (Bee Gees cover)
Another Long One
Shotgun Down the Avalanche
Seven Times the Charm [new song]
Change Is On the Way [new song]
A Matter of Minutes
Hold On (Tom Waits cover)*
Calling All Angels (w/ Jane Siberry)
Sunny Came Home*
Ricochet In Time*
Diamond In the Rough*
Rugged Road (Judee Sill cover)*
I'll Be Back (The Beatles cover)*
If These Walls Could Speak (Jimmy Webb cover)
*With Kate Markowitz