Shawn Colvin On ‘Uncovered’ and Steve Earle: The Buddy & Jim Show Recap
For Buddy Miller, it’s always great having his friend Shawn Colvin come by and sing. This month, Colvin will visit Miller’s home studio to record a new album with Steve Earle.
“I want to be around for that,” said Miller who produced her album All Fall Down three years ago and will take the helm as producer once again. Colvin was in “The House” as it’s known, to talk about Uncovered, her new album of covers on the Buddy & Jim Show on Sirius XM Outlaw Country. The two did the show without Lauderdale but Colvin was excited about her impending sessions with Steve Earle.
“I can rock out harder and Steve can calm down a bit,” she said of their chemistry, crediting Earle with being an excellent writer who knows exactly what he wants. She is targeting a June release.
Colvin was a member of Buddy Miller’s band in New York back in the early 1980s, when New York had a burgeoning country scene in Urban Cowboy era. She mentioned to Miller that she got her chops by playing “Orange Blossom Special” so many times for him. The two originally met in Austin, and he convinced her to move to New York. It was there where she met John Leventhal (now Rosanne Cash’s husband and collaborator) who went on to produce Colvin's biggest hit song, “Sunny Came Home.” She has earned 10 Grammy nominations and won the award three times, including Best Contemporary Folk Album for Steady On and Record and Song of the Year for “Sunny Came Home.”
Today, living back in Austin, the singer laughs that she is more of a soccer mom raising her teenage daughter. Miller says he still has a picture of her holding her when she was a baby. “It might have been at Lilith Fair,” Miller thinks. Colvin’s daughter is now a young woman of seventeen.
“I spend most of my time with her because when I’m not in town I spend no time with her,” Colvin says. She’d just spent a few weeks out with Don Henley and was getting ready to head out for another few weeks of shows.
These days Colvin discovers new music from the young kids she sees in coffee shops making ends meet just like she did all those years ago. When she was in the band the Dixie Diesels and had trouble with her voice, she turned to work in clothing stores and waitressed. She got fired because she couldn’t balance a tray with tall cocktail glasses. That reminded Miller of his days working manual labor jobs for Manpower. “I didn’t last very long.
On Uncovered, Colvin performs acoustic versions of some of the greatest songs of her contemporaries including Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Earl Keen and John Fogerty.
Colvin chose to record Paul Simon’s “American Tune” which is based in part on Bach’s choral piece “St. Matthew Passion.” The song, which Miller says is almost like a hymn, resonates for Colvin in our current times. She has done several Simon & Garfunkel tributes and remembers playing “The Boxer” with Alison Krauss. She recalls one tribute where she was set to play “Kathy’s Song” but switched to “American Tune.” “Maybe a current love was not so fond of ‘Kathy’s Song,’” she surmises.
Colvin has admired Bruce Springsteen over the years and Tunnel of Love is one of her favorites, noting it has a tenderness around his romance revelations. “There’s a lot of swagger in his version. He’s basically saying, ‘I’ve been through it all and I know you’ve been through it all and I can go the distance’ which to me is not a swagger, it’s a humility won through hardships in love. That’s what I tried to bring out.”
Colvin says she fell in love with Robert Earl Keen’s “Not a Drop of Rain” which she first heard on KGSR in Austin. She performed it at a concert to benefit the Sims Foundation in Austin which provides mental health services.
Colvin challenged herself to do a stripped-down version of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” She admires its beautiful words that she says tells a somber story. Once she learned the chord changes (“they’re not what you expect”), she had to decide what to do about the song’s defining panoramic sax solo. “We thought if we’re not going to have sax, what’s the farthest thing away we can get?” That’s when they decided to overlay pedal steel.
The album features covers by Graham Nash, Crowded House and Stevie Wonder. For Nash’s “I Used To Be a King,” Colvin admits to being scared about what she could bring to it. When invited to play at a Crosby, Stills & Nash tribute, Colvin was forced to choose one song and made it “I Used To Be a King.” She says she always wanted to sing it for the pay-off line: “Someone is gonna take my heart/But no one is gonna break my heart again.” “It’s so forcefully put,” she says. “Out of this heartbreak he’s like ‘No this isn’t going to happen to me again’.”
Colvin once played Kitty Wells in the film Crazy based on the life of the session guitarist Hank Garland. Garland played on many sessions for Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline in the Fifties. Miller reminds Colvin that she can be seen singing in a scene at an outdoor party. Colvin responds that she still hasn’t seen the film and admits she is just not that confident on screen. She once played herself on the Larry Sanders Show and did a voiceover on The Simpsons and has a slew of credits on the imdb.com database.
For the album’s closing track, Colvin chose “‘Til I Get It Right” by Tammy Wynette. She tells Miller that she didn’t want to do a heartbreaker.
“I write breakup songs. That’s my thing. ‘Til I Get It Right’ isn’t about heartbreak. It’s about getting back on your feet and going for it.”
(This article originally appeared in For The Country Record.)