Shawn Colvin – a Few Small Repairs

Shawn Colvin first made her mark on the music scene during a rebirth of the folk scene, which occurred in the late 1980s. Moody female singer/songwriters, armed with guitars, were a staple of the day. While Colvin, had some success on her first few albums, largely due to continuous gigging, it was 1996s sparse and unsentimental song “Sunny Came Home” off of A Few Small Repairs (Columbia Records) that put her on the map.

The album gets off to a good start with the stunning single, “Sunny Came Home”. Colvin and songwriting partner, John Leventhal (she writes the lyrics/he writes the music) are at the top of their game as songwriters on this tune about a battered woman, who methodically plans to burn down the house. “Get the kids and bring a sweater/Dry is good and wind is better” chants the singer before the match is struck. The song is buoyed by an overall lush production that stops the song from being a downer and instead celebrates a woman’s liberation.

While “Sunny Came Home” is a mini-folk/pop masterpiece the rest of the album never quite gets up to speed. There are the typical girls with guitars tales of failed relationships, finding the right one and staying away from the wrong one. Colvin, like a slew of other woman before her, may be a bit more interested in the bad boy. “The Facts About Jimmy” recounts the struggle of a man caught between his wife and “another woman in a badlands town”.

Things perk up a bit on the pop-driven song “Trouble”. Once again, the singer is having man problems, but the bigger “trouble” seems to be that she has a talent for getting herself in a jam. “Trouble is just a place to sing/It’s what you need” hums the girl power singer who can’t quite seem to break the spell of down-trodden tunes.

Colvin does get it right one more time on the song “If I Were Brave”. It doesn’t exactly offer up a differing (read – happy) view of life or love, but it is drenched in honesty. The singer wrote this one on her own and it is definitely a song from one woman to another. As she ponders whether or not she’s made the right choice by pursuing her career instead of following the usual marriage and family route, Colvin offers no clear answers – only an honest reading of the choices she herself has made.

A pack of other songs such as “Suicide Alley”, “I Want It Back” and “Wichita Skyline” have promising lyrics and ideas to get out, but they fall flat due to slow uneven tempos and lackluster productions. While every song need not have a “Wall of Sound” feel, some change in melody or arrangement would help the album feel less monotonous – especially in its middle section.

Shawn Colvin is obviously a veteran singer/songwriter, who knows what she wants to say. What she and Leventhal are really in need of is a third partner/simpatico studio wizard to really make her heartfelt songs come to life.

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