Review Summary: A folk masterpiece forgotten by time.
There are few albums that I come to associate with my father more than A Few Small Repairs
. Whether it be that opening twang of "Sunny Came Home" that takes me back to the endless hours he would play it on repeat, or Colvin's crooning voice narrating our annual pilgrimage to Florida on "Wichita Skyline," it's something I always listen to and expect to my dad rocking his head slightly to the beat when I turn my head.
Of course, once he hooked me on it I had plenty of time to form my own personal attachment to the tracks. The mournful ballad "Trouble" finds the perfect balance of instrumental beauty and a somber sense of grace, and combined with exceptionally captivating lyrics, it all rounds out to one of the best songs I've yet to find on this Earth. A couple songs later, on the minimalistic piano tune "If I Were Brave," Colvin sings of the universality of loneliness. Lines like "A thousand lonely lifetimes I still wait and then go on/A clown to entertain the happy couples" delighted my emotional middle-school self to no end.
If it seems like lyrics are being mentioned often in this review, it's because they're some of the best to ever be written in the genre. Colvin's country/folk stylings are much more musical than they are lyrical, and it shows in the more mature topics of heartbreak and identity that she grapples with on nearly every song. It's a concept album really, one that centers among those very emotions she felt in the wake of her divorce. One track of particular merit, aside from those previously noted, is the gorgeously minimalistic "The Facts About Jimmy." Weaved between the chiming guitars and gentle percussion is a story of isolation and claustrophobia, told with such honesty and scorn that you're very glad you're not whatever Jimmy pissed Shawn Colvin off.
Perhaps it's the personal significance of the album that makes me so surprised at the lack of appreciation it has. Sure, any radio-listener from the 90s will recognize the one-hit wonder of "Sunny Came Home," which also snagged Record and
Song of the Year at the Grammys. Yet despite this and the glowing reviews it received at the time, the album seems to have faded into obscurity as the genre grew out of fashion.
That's just a damned shame, since there's a lot on the album that country skeptics and folk lovers would enjoy. While much of the album can be found in the darkened corners of folk music such as "84,000 Different Delusions," the songs range from the masterfully orchestrated ballads mentioned before to the rock-influenced stomp of "Get Out of This House" and the snappy pop of "Nothin' On Me," which serves as an upbeat and hopeful ending to an otherwise sobering experience.
That's not to say that there aren't any low points to be noted here. The closer Colvin strays toward a straightforward country sound, the less interesting her songs sound. "I Want it Back" tries to skirt that line between being clever and being a romp but ultimately appears disappointingly repetitive and uninteresting compared to the rest of the album, and "New Thing Now," the only cover of the bunch, fails to add anything new after a series of already slow and downtrodden numbers, no matter how lovely her rendition may sound.
In the end, however, these few faults are vastly outweighed by the sheer force of the emotion Colvin infuses into her sparse but lush soundscapes. The songs weave smoothly into each other despite their variety, and not once do you doubt the artist's intentions to create an honest tribute to heartbreak and loss. It's no wonder that my father was so moved by the simple feel
of the record after a life of successful and unsuccessful love. I'm constantly thankful that he passed it down to me, it taught me that heartbreak isn't an individual experience, and that one should never keep their eye off the light at the end of the tunnel.