Review Summary: Grammy-nominated Colvin's defining album - fans of McLachlan, the Indigo Girls, or Joni Mitchell would do well in checking this album out.
Fitting in can be just as difficult as standing out of the crowd on your own. As many of you know or will come to find out eventually, future employers will hound you with questions about why they should hire you to their company. Why should we hire you? What makes you so different from these hundreds, or even thousands, of applicants? What special qualities do you have inside you that these other applicants don't possess? What can you do for this company that they cannot? These are all extremely difficult questions because the answers are so fragile. If you misspeak at any point of your interview, you won't get hired. Or, let's spin it this way: if you've graduated from college or university or are currently a university student, you know how difficult writing those admissions essays and initial interviews with the admissions staff were, and then having to play the waiting game to see if you've been accepted or rejected into an institution of higher learning. And then there's the ordeal of applying for scholarships - why should you be awarded money? What makes you shine and stand out more than the other applicants? If you aspire to attend university but do not have any idea how trying and unnerving all this can be, you will soon find out. It's not fun.
Think about yourself for a moment - I'm giving you the right to be introspective and possibly egocentric for a few moments. What makes you a unique person? What qualities or traits do you possess that others don't? What do your friends see in you that makes them want to be your friend? What do you have to offer to your family, friends, and society in general? For some of you, these will be tough questions to answer. For Shawn Colvin, these were tough questions.
That is, until A Few Small Repairs
was released in 1996.
This album marks Shawn Colvin's apex of her career: it defined her legacy amongst her folk-pop colleagues and earned compliments from genre superpowers such as Sarah McLachlan and other Lilith Fair musicians. Its earth-shattering success, thanks to the strength of her biggest single ever, cemented her place in the genre. This single, Sunny Came Home
, earned her awards of the highest honor: Grammy wins for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. How did she stand out from the rest of the music world? Why did she deserve this honor over other qualified musicians?
For one, it helps to have someone who inspires you and who wants to bring the best out of you. This might be a teacher, a coach, or a classmate. In Shawn Colvin's case, it was her producer, John Leventhal. Together, the two constantly bounced ideas back and forth, constantly trying to improve the other. Eventually, they got into a system where Colvin would write the lyrics and main lines to Leventhal's melodies. The end result is an album worthy of its acclaim.
Colvin's vocal delivery is a soothing, yet assertive tone. Overall, she does not have a particularly strong voice, but when it's blended and mixed with the instruments, Colvin gives off a vibe that makes the album overall pleasant to listen to. Colvin crafts her songs with plenty of similes and metaphors. For instance, If I Were Brave
is a somber, piano-driven track where she describes her life as a single songwriter, feeling that she is nothing more than "A clown to entertain the happy couples" and how she feels she's lived "A thousand lonely lifetimes." In the end, her heartbroken demeanor changes to one trying to find significance in her life outside of her music. She turns inward and continues the theme of introspection: "Did you never do your best? Would you be saved if you were brave and just tried harder?"
In parallel to the self-concept theme, Colvin also battles through the typical sentiments of battling through love's ups-and-downs, moreso its downs. That's not to say that the album is a complete listing of depressing tracks; sometimes, Colvin chooses to fight rather than take flight. This is best exemplified in the monster hit Sunny Came Home
, and also prevalent in the album's inset and cover art. The song tells the story of Sunny, a woman who returns home to a house of turmoil. As the song progresses, Shawn sings that Sunny vengefully says, "'It's time for a few small repairs,'" and then proceeds to burn the house - along with the memories of her life inside it - down. Now, pay attention to the album title and cover art. It's definitely a neat ploy, even if it may have the subtlety of a dumptruck to some.
The success of Sunny Came Home
and tracks such as Wichita Skyline
, You and the Mona Lisa
, and Suicide Alley
cannot be attributed to her vocals alone, but through the instrumentation used as well. Colvin's folk-pop style shines on this album, especially with the combination of mandolin and acoustic guitar that's found on Sunny Came Home
. Overall, Leventhal's melodies are complimented by Colvin's vocals, and vice versa. The moderate tempo, something admittedly commonplace in the folk-pop world, portrayed throughout the album also makes for an easy listening experience. The one complaint that springs from this album is that, while the music is done well, both it and the lyrical content can turn monotonous due to its homogeneity, especially in the revenge-like songs. In tracks such as Get Out of This House
, the angry tone is palpable, but in 84,000 Different Delusions
the whimsical tempo and airy instrumentation deflates the song's tone. Nevertheless, the album ends on a note reminiscent of a folk-like conclusion to a John Wayne movie.
Overall, this is a beautiful album that definitely deserves its accolades and rave reviews, and is hands-down Colvin's best album to date. The team of lyricist Colvin and melody-writer Leventhal works extremely well on this album as a cohesive unit to present a smooth album with solid production. If you enjoyed Sunny Came Home
, A Few Small Repairs
is an extremely worthwhile pick-up, even if it comes with some repetition and blandness on the side. Fans of Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette without the angst, the Indigo Girls, or Joni Mitchell (whom Colvin attributes as an influence to her music) would be wise in giving this album a shot.
Sunny Came Home
If I Were Brave
You and the Mona Lisa