Shawn Colvin is an artist who has been around since the late 1980s, but is still developing the following she deserves. She is an excellent songwriter and one of those pure-voiced singers who can take even painful subject matter and make it beautiful. On her new CD, All Fall Down, she looks unflinchingly at the breakup of a relationship and its repercussions.
Colvin co-wrote eight of the songs here, with some stellar writing partners like Patty Griffin (“Change is On the Way”) and Jakob Dylan (“Seven Times the Charm”) and her longtime writing partner,J ohn Levanthal (“All Fall Down,” “The Neon Light of the Saints,” and “Knowing What I Know Now.”) In addition, Bill Frisell wrote “Anne of the Thousand Days” with Colvin, and Victor Krauss co-wrote “I Don’t Know You.”
The recording was done at producer Buddy Miller’s studio in Nashville, and Miller and Colvin wisely took advantage of the friendship and availability of musicians like Jakob Dylan, Allison Krauss, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris to participate in the sessions. The arrangements are kept uncomplicated to let the words and voices shine, but are enhanced by great Nashville musicians such as fiddler Stuart Duncan, who adds emphasis to the country ballads, “Knowing What I Know Now,” which also features Miller on harmony vocal, and “Change is On the Way.”
The harmonies on “American Jerusalem,” one of the few cover songs on the CD, are beyond beautiful, as Emmylou Harris blends her voice with Colvin’s. The song was written by Rod MacDonald and is one that Colvin used to sing in her early career. It is less personal and more social commentary, and yet it fits into the CD nicely. Harris also lends her voice to the plaintive and lovely “Up on That Hill,” another of the three songs which Colvin did not co-write. (The other one is the closing tune, “On My Own,” which sounds as though it was written just to provide the perfect ending for this recording.)
Allison Krauss is another friend who helps out here, blending in perfectly on the solemn “Seven Times the Charm” and “I Don’t Know You.” Jakob Dylan provided not only the co-writing for “Seven Times the Charm,” but harmony vocal for “Fall of Rome,” a story about loss and rebirth.
“The Neon Light of the Saints” was written especially for the TV series Treme and will be featured in an upcoming episode next season. It has an echo of New Orleans gospel and jazz and is sure to grab and keep your attention.
Perhaps my favorite song on here is the unusual, honest, deeply touching “Anne of the Thousand Days.” To me, this is a perfect ballad, both cleverly written and insightful.
If you are looking for sensitive songwriting, beautiful vocals, and honest emotion, this CD is for you. Some people have complained already in online reviews that it is “depressing,” but there is hope here, as well as resilience and heartbreak. Most of us have been through those hard emotional times, and if we haven’t come through them yet, we will. Colvin captures the disillusionment, but she also captures the hope.
Hopefully, All Fall Down will introduce more people to this very deserving singer and songwriter.