Shawn Colvin: All Fall Down

Singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin has made a very welcome return with her eighth studio album, All Fall Down. Collaborations with producer Buddy Miller (who first discovered Shawn three decades ago), Bill Frisell, Allison Krauss, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris add some fresh country flourishes, but overall the new songs stay true to the authentic, heartfelt acoustic folk-pop style of Shawn’s early releases. It’s a beautiful piece of work.

There are those we say are our favorite artists to anyone who asks. For me, they are Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Mahler, Allison Crowe, Anais Mitchell, Xavier Rudd, Florence + The Machine and Flogging Molly. And there are those that our old friends know were once among our favorites. For me, they are The Dresden Dolls, Joan Osborne, Hole, Sarah McLachlan, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

Then there are those few artists whose music is so important and personal to us, that not even our closest companions can ever truly grasp what they really mean to us. For me, they are Tori Amos, Patti Smith, Fiona Apple, Heather Nova, Holly Cole, Concrete Blonde, Sinead Lohan, and Shawn Colvin.

Shawn Colvin’s 1992 album Fat City and 1994’s Cover Girl affected me in a way I hear older people talk about Bob Dylan or other legendary songwriters. Shawn’s own song “Monopoly” and her covers of “Someday” and “Twilight” were there for me when no one else was, sharing my heartbreak and helping me through some very dark times. Even Shawn herself was a source of comfort with her candid interviews about her ongoing struggles with bipolar disorder and depression – which is why I’m eager to read her new memoir, Diamond in the Rough.

All Fall Down lives up to that substantial legacy of well-crafted, poetic honesty. A collection of post-breakup (possibly post-divorce?) anthems, the album was born from impromptu, live, in-studio jams between Shawn, Miller and her other musician cohorts.

The album opens with its catchy title track, followed by Shawn’s stunning cover of Rod MacDonald’s gritty ode to NYC (or ode to gritty NYC?), “American Jerusalem.”

The heartbroken ballad “Seven Times the Charm,” co-written by Jakob Dylan and featuring backing vocals by Alison Krauss, is another standout track.

“Anne of The Thousand Days” brilliantly uses Henry VIII as a metaphor for a lover with a long list of ex’s.

Patty Griffin lent her pen to “Change is on the Way,” while “I Don’t Know You” was co-written with Allison Krauss.

Emmylou Harris sings harmony on the gorgeous, atmospheric “Up on that Hill.” The song is perfectly paired with a lovely rendition of B.W. Stevenson’s “On My Own” for the album’s finale.

You can stream the entire album on Shawn’s official site.

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Maura O’Connell: Naked With Friends

Maura O’Connell’s unparalleled vocal power is beautifully displayed in her impressive new album. Naked With Friends is the Irish singer’s humorous way of describing this very serious and poignant work of vocal art. Determined to show that “just a singer” can possess as much talent as any musician, O’Connell recorded this collection of a cappella performances with the help of singers Kate Rusby, Dolly Parton, The Settlers Connection, Jerry Douglas, Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Dugas of The Duhks, Altan’s Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Clannad’s Moya Brennan, Mary Black, Alison Krauss, Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Paul Brady, Liam Bradley, Declan O’Rourke, and Áine Derrane.

Maura’s haunting a cappella opens “The Bright Blue Rose”. The earthy depths of her voice are so astounding, I wish she were unaccompanied for the duration for the song. But Kate Rusby, Dolly Parton, and The Settlers Connection make for a pretty choir on the song.

Jerry Douglas joins Maura for a gut-trembling performance of the traditional “Mo Sheamuseen”, Crooked Still‘s Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Dugas of The Duhks provide ethereal harmony on the ballad “Arrow”, and Alison Krauss contributes her soft croon to a cover of “Some People’s Lives”.

Tim O’Brien is outshone by O’Connell’s pipes on “The Blacksmith”, but Paul Brady does a fine job of keeping up with her on the traditional “Anach Cuain”. But you really must leave it to Irish gals to sing with each other, such as when Altan’s Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Clannad’s Moya Brennan (formerly known as Máire Brennan), and Mary Black lend their voices to “I Know My Love”.

Maura sings solo on a few tracks, beginning with a rafter shaking take on “Ae Fond Kiss” by Robert Burns. She also delivers a stunning rendition of Joan Armatrading’s “Weakness in Me”, which is one of my favorite songs of all time. The result is one of the most chill-producing vocals I’ve ever heard. Those who have heard the original know it’s difficult to imagine anyone successfully mimicking Armatrading’s heart wrenching delivery, let alone bringing anything fresh to the song. Yet the delicate trill and deep chasm of O’Connell’s voice evokes new facets of emotion from the tune.

Maura O’Connell – The Bright Blue Rose (mp3 link removed) *

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of Welk Music & Sugar Hill Records

Maura O’Connell Official Site
Maura O’Connell MySpace

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Raising Sand Wins 5 Grammys

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand album just won five Grammys, including “Record of the Year” and “Album of the Year”…which is odd since it was released almost two years ago. It’s strange how time changes your perception of music. The album was only #7 on my Top Albums of 2007 list and my track-by-track review was certainly favorable but not raving, yet it’s the album I’ve listened to most in the past couple of years and I find it even more charming with each listen. I hope the rumors of a sequel are true!

Muruch Album Review

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Music on TV: Once, A Fine Frenzy, Plant/Krauss, Fisher

Congratulations to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova on winning the Oscar for Best Original Song! For the few who hadn’t heard “Falling Slowly” before the award show performance, the ballad is on the brilliant Once soundtrack. It was #4 on my Top Albums of 2007 list. I thought the Hansard/Irglova/Stewart interaction last night was adorable.

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I occasionally get asked about songs played in tv shows or commercials. Most of these questions pertain to Kate Voegele‘s role as Mia on One Tree Hill. If you’re curious about the song playing in the final scene of this week’s episode of OTH, it was “Ashes And Wine” from A Fine Frenzy’s One Cell In The Sea.

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The new JC Penney American Living commercial features “Killing The Blues” from Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – #7 on my Top of ’07 list.

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And the song in the animated CVS Pharmacy commercial is a cover of Sarah Mclachlan’s “Ordinary Miracle” performed by Kathy Fisher of the band Fisher, an old online acquaintance of mine. Fisher’s “I Will Love You” (which she was kind enough to dedicate to my hubby & me at Mountain Stage in 2001) was the first mp3 I ever downloaded. It’s on her debut album One.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Raising Sand

Raising Sand is a collaboration between former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and bluegrass darling Alison Krauss. This impressive collection is unusual – both because of the pair’s seeming contradictory musical traditions and also in the strange and lovely amalgam of their styles. With the help of producer T Bone Burnett, the two put together some very interesting arrangements in this eclectic selection of songs.

“Rich Woman” opens the album with an airy mix of light blues and psychedelica that unfortunately outshines the duo’s dueling falsetto vocals. The reverse is true in “Killing The Blues”, which better suits the vocal pairing but has a lackluster arrangement. Still, it’s a very pretty tune that does have a nice twist of lapsteel. I just prefer Shawn Colvin’s version.

It’s the cover of Sam Phillips’ “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” – inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe – that really seems to get the album flowing. Alison purrs sweetly over a swaying melody that successfully combines the bluegrass instrumentation of her own music with the exotic percussion and strings of Plant’s recent recordings.

Their rocky rendition of The Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” is another highlight, thanks in part to producer T Bone Burnett’s 6-string bass. The tune also features the best vocal interplay on the disc, with Plant finally unleashing his voice a bit as Krauss provides harmony.

The pedal steeled “Through The Morning, Through The Night” could’ve been lifted from one of Alison’s own albums, with her gentle voice taking the spotlight. This is perhaps fitting because the track that follows, “Please Read The Letter”, was taken from Plant’s 1998 collaboration with former bandmate Jimmy Page. The Plant/Page cover is another grand vocal mesh, showing off the beauty of both singers’ voices before Plant indulges in some Zep wailing toward the end of the song. Krauss gets to do a little belting of her own on the country-rocker “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson”.

The stand out track is the gorgeous cover of the Tom Waits tune “Trampled Rose”, with Krauss delivering a stellar lead vocal over a haunting blend of Dobro, percussion, toy piano, and pump organ. Plant then takes the reins again on “Fortune Teller” – which has a sort of cosmic surf rock mood – and the thrillingly atmospheric cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin'”.

Robert Plant Official Site
Alison Krauss Official Site

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