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Michelle Shocked


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Her evocative/eclectic music has touched many styles throughout her career so far: contemporary folk, folk/rock, swing-era jazz, American traditional-sounding music

Status:

Most recent release, Soul of My Soul (2009); she supposedly released Inaudible Woman, a CD of silent songs named after music executives and audible only to dogs in 2014 though it was apparently available through CDBaby it currently is not.

See also:

Michelle Shocked's site

Wikipedia's entry on Michelle Shocked

Comparisons:

It's hard to compare Michelle Shocked with anybody. She has a definite folk tradition, but not the folk coming out of the east coast. It reminds one of the songs sung in the South during the 1800s and early 1900s. (Matt.Bittner)

Covers/own material:

Own material, occasional cowriting

General comments:

Each of Michelle Shocked's albums have a distinct personality. About the only artist I know of who takes as many turns and goes in a new direction with each recording as her is Jane Siberry (though that's about the only thing they have in common musically). Her music has a distinct down-to-earth, rootsy quality that is rare, whether it's stripped-down like Kind Hearted Woman or jazzed up like Captain Swing. (Neile)

My favorite album is Short Sharp Shocked because it's the best example of how personal she can get while still having fun. Also, in my opinion, one of the best album covers of all time: cops dragging her away. You have to know her history protesting, living on the streets and eventually finding herself as fame creeps at her door. My second favorite would be bluesy Kind Hearted Woman—it's such a departure from her previous work. (Plasterofstevie@aol.com)

Comments about live performance:

Michelle Shocked is awesome in concert! I've seen her at least a half dozen times, and every time I've had a blast. You never really know what she is going to do, as the changing styles on her album indicate.
     Recently I saw Michelle Shocked's Intimate Dance Party—another fantastic show from Ms. Shocked. She's mutated yet again, and has now become a serious rhythm and blues outfit with her backing band The Anointed Earls. They are really crunchy, providing the horn-type punch I expected from her previous show, but without the horns.
     Last time she seemed to be toying with being a diva in crushed velvet, which I didn't think worked all that well but was fun anyway, and didn't last for the whole show. She had a band with horns, but was giving it more of a swing feel than the New Orleans brass punch I was expecting.
     Since her move to New Orleans she has written a number of bluesy, bawdy, brass band style numbers that were a riot, though I'd love to hear them with an actual band. Even if a radio station were willing to play Michelle Shocked, you wouldn't hear these, as songs like "Hard Core Hornagraphy" and "Don't Tell Wizard" were peppered with double entendres and profanity. I was hoping for more of Kind Hearted Woman, which I really think is her best album to date. She finally played a pair of songs in the first encore, and they were easily the most powerful moments of the evening.
     Her previous pass through town was solo with an electric guitar, and she played stark versions of many of the songs she played last year. She talked about the New Orleans influence on her new music (she had just moved there), so I was expecting something slightly different. It was just her and an electric guitar. The music had a really ragged edge to it. After the first three songs, she played all requests, which seemed to come largely from the first two albums. She took the spare style from Kind Hearted Woman and applied it to most of her songs. I didn't think it always worked as well as the original versions, but Michelle is always a joy to see on stage. She's so personal, makes more faces than any performer I've ever seen, and frequently added new verses or stories to the middle of the songs.
     The time I saw her before that, she performed stark acoustic versions of much of Kind Hearted Woman before being joined by a small bunch of the Hothouse Flowers musicians for a whole mess of favorites.
     When I saw her in April 2000, she played a half hour set of old favorites from the first 4 albums with a pick up band consisting of roughly 10 people from the audience who brought instruments with them. This included 3 guitars, a baritone sax, a washboard, a conga drum set, a dulcimer, a little girl on a dumbek and a back-up singer. It was great fun, and the audience was wildly supportive of the effort. It sounded quite good too. After a half hour break, she came out with her band and proceeded to play for two an a half hours, playing only new music. The music was all over the map—ranging from folk influences to Uncle Remus-style storytelling to punk and glam to gospel testifying. As usual, an amazing show.
     Since Good News came out, I have seen Michelle twice. A few years ago she did a show that consisted of 3 hours of brand new music. Last year, she did a show that had almost no overlap with the previous one, and had more new music. (05/02, neal)

Recommended first album:

Her most accessible recording is definitely Short Sharp Shocked; however, others would probably recommend Kind Hearted Woman. I think that you should start from the beginning, The Texas Campfire Tapes and work towards Kind Hearted Woman. Now, there is nothing wrong—at all—with her earlier recordings, and starting there it gives you a chance to see how a wonderful musician truly matures from her start to where she currently is. (Matt.Bittner)

Recordings:


The Texas Campfire Tapes

Release info:

1986—Mercury—834 581-2

Availability:

Widely available in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Michelle Shocked—guitar, vocals

Comments:

The Texas Campfire Tapes are literally that—just Michelle playing her guitar and singing around a campfire. The songs were recorded on a walkman. Simple and effective. (Neile)

Short Sharp Shocked

Release info:

1988—Mercury—834 924-2

Availability:

Wide in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

"Herself"—acoustic guitar, vocals

Guest artists:

Many

Produced by:

Pete Anderson

Comments:

The first "produced" Michelle Shocked recording. It was songs on this album that introduced me to Michelle's wonderful songwriting ability, especially the song and video for "When I Grow Up". This is the most "pop"-oriented of her recordings. (Matt.Bittner)

This is my favourite of hers, and is full of songs that I have played and enjoyed over the years and never get tired of. (Neile)


Captain Swing

Release info:

1989—Mercury—838 878-2

Availability:

Widely available in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

"Hersailf"—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Many

Produced by:

Pete Anderson

Comments:

This is the type of recording that makes your toes tap. It's hard not to "bop" back and forth while listening to this recording. (Matt.Bittner)

This is probably my least favourite of Michelle Shocked's recordings, but only because she's exploring a style here that I'm not very fond of. This album is flavoured by swing-era jazz. It's fun, but just not my thing. (Neile)


Arkansas Traveler

Release info:

1992—Mercury—314 512 101-2

Availability:

Widely available in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Various—Arkansas Traveler (taken right from the liner, again referring to herself)

Guest artists:

Many: the Hothouse Flowers, Alison Krauss Union Station, et al.

Produced by:

Michelle Shocked

Comments:

Overall, the material on this recording gives you a sense of "true" American music. (Matt.Bittner)

Kind Hearted Woman

Release info:

1996—re-released by Private Music—0100582145-2; 1994—independently released—MS-001

Availability:

The Private Music release is readily available in the U.S. The independent release was only available by mail order and at shows.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Hard Headed Gal—guitar and lead vocals

Guest artists: (Private Music release)

Fiachna O'Braonain—guitar and harmony vocals
Peter O'Toole—bass, bouzouki, and harmony vocals
Cedric Anderson—drums
John Thomassie—drums on "Eddie"

Produced by:

Bones Howe

Comments:

Note: There are two version of this album, the white one which was independently released and the black which was released by the Private Music label.

Very pure, very folky in the classic sense. A dark but human album. (Neile)

Kind Hearted Woman is a stark, stripped-down album. It's probably most reminiscent of The Texas Campfire Tapes, except that the songwriting is much more mature, as is her voice. It's an incredibly powerful and moving disc, that may well be my favorite of hers. However, it's so dark and depressing that I might pick a different one just for the mood. Figuring it would have limited appeal, her record company refused to release it, but did give her the rights to do so herself. (Don't you love it when record companies don't put out something incredible when it's not just what they want?)
     It's perhaps worth noting that the original (white cover) release is more spare and stark than the one on Private Music. It's just Michelle and electric guitar, while on the second version she gets to work with additional musicians. Their contributions are pretty understated, but definitely there. She had said that that was more of how she envisioned the album, and was forced by monetary constraints to release the stripped-down version first.
     The covers are the same (the "kind hearted woman" hobo art), but the color scheme is reversed. Original is white with black lettering and drawing, while the re-release is black with white lettering and drawing. (neal)

The "white" version is much more "raw" than the "black" version, but it's still Michelle. A nice CD to round out the collection. (Matt.Bittner)


Artists Make Lousy Slaves

With Fiachna O'Braonain

Release info:

1996—Mood Swing

Availability:

Out of print; limited release of 2000 copies—only available at shows

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Michelle Shocked fans

Group members:

Michelle Shocked
Fiachna O'Braonain

Produced by:

Michelle Shocked

Comments:

Track listing: "Laundry Day", "Drip Dry", "Soul Searching", "New Orleans*", "Groove Baby's Lullaby", "Last Love", "Can You See it in Me", "Only a Prayer", "Live and Learn**", "Carrickpergus"/"The Water is Wide". All songs by FO'B and MS, except *FO'B/BP Fallon/Peter O'Toole/Liam O'Maonlai and **MS and Wayne Lastname [sic]
Liner notes:
So here's the story: One week before the First Annual Underground Test Site Tour Spring '96, Fiachna flew to New Orleans on a red eye and we spent the next two days writing these tunes. The next day we recorded them in the slave quarters of Michelle's house, sent the DAT off to the printer/presser/CD maker, and held our breath for the next three days until they arrived, the entire 2000 limited edition run, and listened to #0001 for the first time. Exhale. Sigh of relief. Tour manager knocks on the door. 'Showtime,' he says.
Extremely stripped-down. It's obvious these two were having fun with it, from the whimsy of "Laundry Day" and "Live and Learn" to the introspection of "Soul Searching." In classic Michelle form, there's a lot of playful lyrics, and you can tell when she hits an emotional chord. Not a necessity, unless of course you're a big fan. (Plasterofstevie@aol.com)

Anthology

Release info:

1997—Mercury Records

Availability:

Widely available in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended if you want a sampler of her pre-Kind Hearted Woman work

Group members:

Hard Headed Gal—guitar and lead vocals

Guest artists:

Various from the previous recordings.

Produced by:

Various as on the original recordings.

Comments:

For those "true" fans, this is probably not worth buying, except for the fact that it includes the song "Quality of Mercy" from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. (Matt.Bittner)

Good News

Release info:

1998—privately released

Availability:

Limited edition only available at her shows

Comments:

The disc has a really impressive gospel number that was amazing live, as was the closing extended medley of dance songs over the years (including "Staying Alive"). The bonus track is a raucous, wild horn-driven number. Lotsa fun. (neal)

Deep Natural

Release info:

2002—Mightly Sound

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans

Group members:

Info not on album, supposedly on the website which isn't live yet

Comments:

This consists of two albums, one called Deep Natural and the other called Dub Natural.

I'm a bit disappointed in the Deep Natural release—particularly since the best songs on it are rerecordings of songs on her Good News album (which she only sold at concerts a couple years back).
     The rest of the stuff is good, but a bit funky and doesn't capture her charm. The second CD I just of "dubs" I just find kind of boring—still it's good to see her release a "major" release that you can actually buy in stores. (jjhanson@att.net)

She was selling the Dub album at her shows last year, and it is ok. But it is almost all instrumental with only some vocal snippets on it. It's ok to listen to, but I'd probably think of it like Jane Siberry's A Day in the Life (though I personally really enjoy listening to Jane's album, it's not what I would give to anyone to introduce her).
     That's a real shame too, cause a lot of that new music she played was stuff I liked better then the Good News songs. (neal)

Neither of the albums do much for me, but I love the song, "Moanin' Dove," which is more folkie/traditional-sounding than most of the other tracks. There's quite a variety of sound, but this is the only track that really catches my ears. (Neile)


Further info:

She also has a song, "The Quality of Mercy", on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack.


Thanks to Matt Bittner and Mark Lowry for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2015-05-25 01:35:11.
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