Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunny Can Burn This! (I'm SO Out of the Club Now!) Shawn Colvin’s Whole New You!

The Good: Excellent voice, Good melodies, Some decent lyrics
The Bad: Not musically ambitious, Some predictable rhymes
The Basics: Vocally and musically weak and airy (so much so, it floated right past the Light Adult Contemporary radio's attention), Whole New You fails to engage the listener.

After my panning of an Indigo Girls album (Shaming Of The Sun), I've become paranoid that the feminists and the ACLU (not to mention GLADD) are going to descend upon me and tear up my membership cards. With that fear of losing what little community I might have from the progressives (because otherwise, I'm a hermit!), I rushed out to find another Lilith Fair artist to review and album by and that led me to Shawn Colvin's Whole New You.

Shawn Colvin, perhaps best known for her 1997 single "Sunny Came Home," took a few years from touring to have a baby (actually, I saw a picture back in the day of her on stage very pregnant performing) and work on raising the child. She resurfaced in 2001 with this album and . . . the Industry had pretty much already written her off as a one-hit wonder. And the truth is, after listening to Whole New You several times, it's pretty easy to see why.

With only eleven tracks and clocking in at only Whole New You is short. It's short and small. What I mean by that is that while some of the tracks sound good (it opens very well with "A Matter Of Minutes" and Whole New You), there is nothing big here. There is nothing grand, there is impressive here. Shawn Colvin does not appear to have grown as an artist in the intervening years. There's no "Sunny Came Home" here; nothing so different or intriguing that it gets the listener to stop everything, sit up and say, "Wow, I want to hear that again!"

Musically, Shawn Colvin maintains her place on the pop-folk border, though Whole New You is definitely more in the pop territory. Unlike her previous outings that told whole developed stories or relied on weird allusions and imagery, Whole New You is more simple and direct. Colvin's poems are more declarative than creative here.

In this way, it's disappointing. Probably more than the writing, the disappointing aspect is that the sound is not bigger. Colvin seems trapped in a place where she's singing and accompanied by guitars, bass, keyboard and drums (primarily). Trombones, clarinets and a flugelhorn pop up on the album, but they seem very distant. In that photograph I mentioned seeing, I recall seeing Colvin with a guitar strapped around her. Perhaps the creative disconnect with Whole New You is that she is distanced from the music by the simple fact that she is not playing an instrument here.

That said, I give a lot of credit to Shawn Colvin for her creative enterprise. All eleven tracks on Whole New You are co-written by Colvin, so she had a lot of input in creating the lyrics and music and crafting this album. So, unlike a great number of more commercially successful performers who simply are assembled by a studio, Colvin worked hard to create the eleven tracks on the album.

Some of the lyrics are truly inspired, actually. From a simple poetics standpoint, Shawn Colvin is talented. For example, on "A Matter Of Minutes," Colvin abandons the convenient short lines standard to most music and expressively declares, "If there's one thing certain it's there ain't nothing for sure / And I want to run but I can't do that anymore / I can't meet you half way and I can't have it my way and I can't give up without a fight . . ." That impressed me some.

More impressive is the thematic unity of Whole New You, though as I write that it occurs to me this might be a concept album. Unlike most albums that obsess on love or the ending of relationships, Whole New You is about change. If there is a running theme throughout the album, it is the importance of making changes in one's life. Ironically, the album does not feel like it is repetitive, though almost every song deals with changing life, location and/or the changing world ("Another Plane Went Down").

Still, it's not enough to recommend. Colvin's vocals are mousy and often insubstantial and Whole New You fails to resonate with any lasting depth.

Because I don't want to go out with such a bad taste, I'd like to say that for those considering this album, perhaps a better choice would be pretty much anything from Dar Williams. Dar Williams starts strong, but has grown pretty steadily with each album. Her debut, The Honesty Room (reviewed here!) is an excellent place to begin.

Shawn Colvin may be an admirable person and a good artist, but it's almost impossible to make the latter case based on Whole New You. The best track is the opening "A Matter Of Minutes." I remain underwhelmed by "Mr. Levon" both lyrically and musically.

For other folk-rock reviews, please check out:
Any Day Now - Joan Baez
American Favorite Ballads - Pete Seeger
Covers - James Taylor


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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