*** 1/2MICHELLE SHOCKED. "Short Sharp Shocked." PolyGram.
Folk up-and-comer Michelle Shocked has this habit of writing the most anecdotal, specific kinds of songs, then subtly slipping in a couple of zinger lyrics of quasi-philosophical general impact as if they were throwaway lines.
Thus, while Shocked spends most of the quiet, acoustic "Memories of East Texas" in a benign recollection of learning to drive on treacherous back roads, it's easy to miss the telling flash-forward to the future: "Their lives ran in circles so small / They thought they'd seen it all / And they could not make a place for a girl who'd seen the ocean. . . ."
East Texas' loss is the world's gain. Shocked is a decent poet and real vocal marvel. For her second album, and her first real "production," she's hooked up with producer/arranger Pete Anderson. Considering that he's known for helming Dwight Yoakam and other country projects, there's not much hillbilly in "Short Sharp Shocked." Whether it's country, folk or blues, Anderson keeps it simple, clean and quite rich, eschewing much percussion and leaning heavy on the acoustic.
Shocked's voice--as in chops, and as in sensibility--is still key. Her mature singing is a dead ringer, in alternate moments, for as diverse a pair of crooners as Chrissie Hynde and Jennifer Warnes.
One moment, Shocked is in a lighthearted end of Texas; the next, she's telling of a New York graffiti artist who died in police custody. One minute she's herself, reading a letter from an old pal in Anchorage who's become a housewife; the next, she's the son of a coal miner, hating memories of the black dust but hating even more the poverty that has taken over after the mine closed.
Miss it at your own peril. It's the next best thing to Route 66.