My Record Collection 176

Michelle Shocked – I can remember precisely the moment I first heard Michelle.  It was in my Dad’s car in 1988 and the song ‘When I Grow Up’ came on the radio.  I knew straightaway that this girl was new, different and singing a great song in a style that defied description….and still does.  Alternative Folk – she is listed under, and it’s as good a name as any.  I bought the album ‘Short Sharp Shocked’ and never looked back – except to buy her first release, a live album recorded at a folk festival a couple of years earlier.  The Texas Campfire Tapes (1986) is a pretty straightforward acoustic set of not too brilliant songs.  Not bad songs but the recording is poor and her voice thin and reedy.  Saying that I do like ‘5 a.m. in Amsterdam’ and a couple of others, but even Michelle denigrated the album later.  Her first record proper was Short Sharp Shocked – and what a debut.  Perfectly formed and produced songs, almost every song a winner, and I fell in love with the album.  Opener ‘When I Grow Up’ is of course a gorgeous song with a tropical, almost reggae feel – and the letter sung ‘Anchorage’ is a classic by any standard (You know you’re in the largest state in the Union when you’re anchored down in Anchorage).  But my favourite is ‘Memories Of East Texas’ which rolls along describing Michelle’s learning to drive on East Texas red clay back roads.  For whatever reason I simply adore this song and usually repeat it again and again. I bought the expanded 2-disc version of this album with quite a few unreleased songs on it and some live versions, again brilliant but not essential to the collection.  Apparently, Michelle had her first three albums mapped out completely with songs and arrangements before she even had a record contract.  Her second was a slight change of direction; Captain Swing, which was a homage to the sounds of ‘swing’ and ‘big band’ music of before her birth.  Not that the songs are old-fashioned and are quite topical, especially ‘On The Greener Side’ and ‘The Cement Lament’ but as usual she mixed it up with a couple of love songs ‘Too Little Too late’ and ‘Must be Luff’ – but somehow this album disappointed me, and still to some extent still does, though I have learned to like it more as time goes by.   Her third effort was a country, almost bluegrass folk, album – Arkansas Traveller (1992).  I really loved this album for a while but listening now it seems a bit corny in a way.  Still, a handful of very good songs – ‘Come A Long Way’, ‘Over The Waterfall’ and ‘Secret To A long Life’.  She then left her Mercury label (incidentally retaining the rights to all her previous albums).  Two years later she released on her own independent label an album which is not now available at all – strange, as it really is possibly her best record ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ is a desperately sad album sung often in a keening wail of a voice.  It deals with hardships of life ‘Stillborn’ and ‘A Child Like Grace’ deal with infant deaths; ‘Winter Wheat’ and ‘Cold Comfort’ are about the hardships of small farmers.  But best of all is closer ‘No Sign Of Rain’.  A brilliant album – but maybe not for everyone.  She created her own record company for her later releases – Mighty Sound.  First was Deep Natural (2002) which came with a bonus disc ‘Dub Natural (mostly instrumental versions).   A brilliant album, and another change of style…this time an almost doowop swooping brass section – not jazz at all but an exciting sound.  Some brilliant tunes too; this girl can really write great songs.  Personal favourite is ‘Forgive to Forget’ (with the great line – holding on to the past is my deepest regret) – a gentle song to herself (let it go, let it go, let it go).  But I also love most of the other songs on this exciting record; ‘((Joy)), ‘Why Do I get The Feeling’, ‘If Not Here’ and best of all ‘That’s So Amazing’.  It really feels as if Michelle was inspired both in the writing and the execution of these songs; they absolutely knock me out.  Just listened again to the instrumental disc Dub Natural and it just rocks me too.  Then came a retrospective limited edition disc Shockolates – a pretty good resume, all my favourites up to Deep Natural.  Then three years later came not one but 3 albums.  Released simultaneously and as a threesome, the first of which was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  A bit of a mixed album, some very good songs but quite a few leave me cold.  Oh well; I really love ‘Evacuation Route’, ‘Elaborate Sabotage’ and ‘Goodbye’…but not much else (these just happen to be the quieter songs too).  Much better was the second in the trilogy Mexican Standoff, which has a definite TexMex flavour.   I really like this one; some great tunes and a lovely cohesive feel to it.  Best songs – ‘Lonely Planet’, ‘La Cantine el Gato Negro’ and ‘Match burns Twice’.  The third in the trilogy is Got No Strings and is a bunch of children’s or musicals songs, pleasant but a bit self indulgent.   Then came (for me) the disaster – a live gospel album recorded at a church; full of evengelical bullshit.  To Heaven U Ride….I hate it.  She did manage to redeem herself with Soul of My Soul (2009).  A simply lovely record – a return to form.  Best songs of hers for a long time; ‘Love’s Song’, ‘Other People’ and ‘True Story’  and ‘Pompeii’  are the best of a very good bunch.  And then nothing…Michelle is embarked on a battle with everyone in the music business, trying to stop anyone selling her music in any form that she doesn’t control whatsoever, a hopeless task.  Consequently, no new releases till she gets sole control…A pity as she is truly talented, if sadly silent of late

Mexican Standoff - Michelle Shocked | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic