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Colvin, Shawn

Shawn Colvin

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

For the Record

Built a Following on New York Folk Scene

Proved Herself a Skilled Singer and Guitarist

Released Fat City

Earned Strong, Dedicated Following

Grammy Success

Selected discography

Sources

During the late 1980s folk-flavored music once again made its way toward the mainstream, through the work of such artists as Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Nanci Griffith, and the Indigo Girls. Shawn Colvin, after more than a decade in various music scenes, waltzed through the door these performers had opened and was met with critical awe.

Likening her to a host of great vocalists and songwritersVega, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Janis Ian, Emmylou Harrismusic critics tended toward hyperbole when they discovered Colvin. Singing of the athletics of love and the aesthetics of loss (her words not mine), Shawn Colvin is the best thing Ive heard since the sliced bread of the Jurassic era, Melody Makers Chris Roberts exclaimed. Indeed, Colvin drew praise for her profound and personal songwriting. According to Martin Johnson of New York Newsday, her songbook is a startlingly articulate chronicle of the pain of adult love, while, as Darryl Morden of the Hollywood Reporter noted, there is a child-wonder in Colvins writing that balances out her more serious work. She also thrilled critics with her voice, described by the Hudson Current as fragile as antique glass, sultry as smoke, bouncy, hypnotic, supple, and so soft its like breathing cotton. And as Peter Howell observed in the Toronto Star, Her voice wraps itself around you, like a favorite song heard on a car radio during a long night ride home.

Colvin was born on January 10, 1956, in Vermillion, South Dakota. As her parents pursued advanced degrees, they transplanted Shawn and her three siblings first to London, Ontario, Canada, and then to Carbondale, Illinois. Colvins parents were both musical; her father played guitar and banjo and loved listening to folk music. Colvin sang in the church choir, particularly enjoying church hymns, and as she told David Keeps of Harpers Bazaar, minor-key Christmas carols.

Colvin was also influenced by rock and pop, particularly the Beatles, Laura Nyro, the Bands Robbie Robertson, and Joni Mitchell. When she was ten she picked up her brothers four-string guitar and learned how to playby the time she was a teenager she was drawing album covers. I had a very rich fantasy life, Colvin revealed to Ann Kolson in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I thought Id be a prodigy. I think I really wanted to be very famous, very young. I knew I was good but nobody got encouraged for stuff like that in South Dakota.

Colvin began performing as part of a duo while in high school, a time that she described to Timothy White of Billboard as her angry high school days, during which she always felt like an orphan and had a pretty self-destructive lifestyle. She graduated a year early and remained in town to attend Southern Illinois University. While in college she played folk and rock in local clubs and soon moved on to music full time. After

For the Record

Born on January 10, 1956, in Vermillion, SD; married Simon Tassano (a musician, sound engineer, and tour Manáger), 1993; divorced, 1995; married Mario Erwin (a photographer), 1997; children: (with Erwin) Caledonia Jean-Marie. Education: Attended Southern Illinois University, mid-1970s.

Began performing in folk and rock clubs, Carbondale, IL, mid-1970s; formed Shawn Colvin Band, 1976; performed solo and with various bands in Illinois, Texas, California, and New York, 1976-83; performed solo in folk clubs, East Coast, 1983-89; toured Europe with Suzanne Vega, 1987; released independent album Live Tape, 1988; signed with Columbia Records, 1988; released Steady On, 1989, Fat City, 1992, Cover Girl, 1994, A Few Small Repairs, 1996, and Whole New You, 2001.

Awards: New York Music Awards, Best New Vocalist, 1988, Best Debut Female Vocalist for Steady On, 1989, and Best Folk Artist, 1990; Grammy Award, Best Contemporary Folk Recording for Steady On, 1991; Grammy Award, Song of the Year and Record of the Year, both for Sunny Came Home, 1998.

Addresses: Record company Columbia Records, 666 Fifth Ave., P.O. Box 4455, New York, NY 10101-4455. Management Ronald Fierstein, AGF Entertainment Ltd., 30 West 21st St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10010.

a turn with her own hard-rock Shawn Colvin Band, she joined the country-swing Dixie Diesels and moved with them to Austin, Texas. Eventually Colvin returned to Carbondale, and after a brief stint back at school, she started performing again.

Colvins next move took her to California, where for a year and a half she played in small clubs. Then, in 1980, she moved to New York and joined the Buddy Miller Band. When bassist John Leventhal became part of that outfit, he and Colvin bonded over a shared love of the music of roots guitarist Ry Cooder and became involved musically and romantically. Colvin and Leventhal later formed a band that played pop music in the Steely Dan vein. At one point, she was also the only woman in the bluegrass Red Clay Ramblers. These years were not easy on Colvin; as she revealed to Gary Graff of the Detroit Free Press, she hit emotional rock bottom in the early 1980s. But, with the help of Leventhal, she said, I began to have the courage to say what I really wanted to in my lyrics. While Colvin and Leventhals romantic relationship did not last, their musical collaboration did; he would be instrumental in her first major-label albums.

Built a Following on New York Folk Scene

In 1983 Colvin returned to solo work, finding a niche in the enduring folk scene of New York Citys Greenwich Village. The Fast Folk music collective discovered her and recorded one of her earliest songs, I Dont Know Why. Colvin soon built a following in New York and extended it to folk clubs along the East Coast. Her career got a critical boost from Suzanne Vega: Colvin sang back-up on Vegas 1987 hit Luka, joined Vega on her European tour, and signed with Vegas Manáger.

By 1988, Colvin had arrived, at least in New York City. That year she was named Best New Vocalist at the New York Music Awards and released an independently produced cassette titled Live Tape. She also signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, which resulted in the release of Steady On in 1989. The album included many songs Colvin had written over the years, including some co-written by Leventhal, who also produced the collection. Dark and haunting, Steady On gave Colvin the space to address her past wanderings and exorcise some demons.

Critics were impressed with the effort. John Leland of Newsweek called Steady On a debut album of eye-opening clarity. Billboards White observed, Colvin mounted a siren-like assault on the sensibilities, enticing with fair words and castle-building imagery, and then delivering concrete disclosures that ran dungeon-deep. A Sassy reader gave the album five stars, assessing it as better than your best religious experience, and gushed, I cant pick just one song to recommend because they are all just so downright funky!

Proved Herself a Skilled Singer and Guitarist

Colvins critics were struck not only by her songwriting, but also by her guitar style. She became known for her unusual tunings and rhythmic playing. The percussive technique is Colvins way of keeping things lively when she plays for two hours without a band; as she explained to Guitar Players Kevin Ransom, I dont have the patience to really learn the guitar neck or do a lot of fancy picking or finger work. And, partly because Im a woman, this rhythmic style seemed like a more gripping way to grab attention and make the songs work. Colvin has also been greatly influenced by guitar virtuoso Richard Thompson, with whom she toured after the release of Steady On. I had to learn a bunch of his songs, which meant learning chord combinations Id never have thought of, she told Ransom. His melodies and chord progressions astounded me. Since then, Ive wanted to really push myself and take my playing to odd places that its never been before.

David Hajdu of the Hollywood Reporter found Colvins singing as clever as her guitar work. She uses dynamics for effect, going from whispers to full-throated belting. But her most effective vocal device is her way of slurring notes and slipping into conversational speech unexpectedly. Similarly, White noted, Colvin is an artful yet seemingly effortless vocalist whose prismatic grasp of intonation is married to a serene sense of control. Colvins colleagues seemed to agree with the music press; in 1991 the artist was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Recording for Steady On.

Following the records release, Colvin toured the United States, as well as Canada, Europe, and Australia, performing solo and at folk festivals. Her shows were popular with fans and critics, not only for their quality but for her easy-going wit and charming stage presence, determined New York Newsdays Johnson. She was a guest on Late Night With David Letterman, The Tonight Show, and CBS This Morning, contributed vocals to a number of friends recordings and collective albums, recorded a duet with Bruce Hornsby called Lost Soul, and toured with rock stalwart Neil Young as well as Thompson. It wasnt long before she was ready to return to the studio and record another album. The result was 1992s Fat City and a major headlining tour.

Released Fat City

The mood of Fat City was a departure for Colvin; when she started on the project, she intended to record an album about accepting her status as a single woman, but, as fate would have it, she fell in love with Richard Thompsons sound man and tour Manáger, Simon Tassano, and, as she explained in Rolling Stone, It changed the tone of the songs Id written and inspired others, songs I didnt know were gonna be written. So the joke was on me, Im happy to say. Colvin and Tassano would eventually marry, in September of 1993. While John Leventhal co-produced some of the cuts on Fat City, the primary producer was Larry Klein, who also played bass on the album. Collaborating with Klein afforded an added bonusit meant meeting and working with Kleins wife, Joni Mitchell. Colvin recorded Fat City in their home studio, and as she told David Wild in Vogue, Meeting Joni was a moment I was waiting for all my life. Fat City also included contributions from a wealth of musical luminaries besides Klein and Mitchell: Thompson, Hornsby, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Booker T. Jones, the Subdudes, Chris Whitley, and Bela Fleck.

Critics raved about Fat City, thrilled that Colvin had maintained the momentum of her stunning debut. In Billboards view, the disc [fulfilled] all the promise of her preceding Steady On collection, her deceptively handsome sound concealing a wealth of narrative jolts and surprises. Nashvilles Metro Music Monthly praised the records well-read lyrics with Dylan-esque attention to detail, that shimmery, cool contralto, and a good ear for melody and arrangement; The Hudson Current reveled in the lyric finesse as well, reporting, Colvin uses words like found objects, stringing them together into collages of imagery.

One of the songs from Fat City, Colvins old standby I Dont Know Why, quickly became the critics darling. Billboard, the Chicago Tribune, and the Gavin Report were certain the song would become a classic, the latter calling it one of the most brilliantly conceived and executed songs of this decade. Reviewer Ben Edmonds, writing in Detroits Metro Times, was a rare dissenting voice: Sad to say, Fat City is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Most of the songs show flashes of something but none fully press their advantages. Still, even this criticism was qualified, Edmonds conceding, Most contemporary folk artists would be only too happy to claim Fat City. For Shawn Colvin, its a small sophomore stumble.

Earned Strong, Dedicated Following

Despite the critical accolades, Colvin was not considered a mainstream pop artist, and her record sales reflected this. As Vogues Wild noted, no specific radio format was targeted, and as such, Colvin failed to reach the wide audience that radio play attracts. New York Newsday contributor Johnson observed that her songs had proven too folk for mainstream and too urbane for country. But, like many contemporary folk singers, Colvin enjoys a strong, dedicated following. I havent sold a zillion records, [but] these people who come out to see me I think will always be around in some numbers. Thats a good place to be, in my opinion, she remarked in a Pollstar profile. Its a good career to have. Im not fabulously wealthy and I dont get recognized on the street, but Ive got a really, really good job.

In 1994 Colvin released an album of covered songs appropriately titled, Cover Girl. This album was the first of Colvins recording emphasizing her interpretation of other artists material. The covers on the album included Every Little Thing (He) Does is Magic, by the Police and a duet with Mary-Chapin Carpenter on One Cool Remove. Cover Girl was followed by two 1995 releases, Round of Blues and Live 88. A Few Small Repairs, Colvins 1996 record that was written on the heels of her divorce from Tassano, propelled her into mainstream popularity with the hit song Sunny Came Home.

Grammy Success

Sunny Came Home earned Colvin two Grammy Awards in 1998, one for Song of the Year and the other for Record of the Year. Chris Woodstra of All Music Guide wrote, Colvin has always been a songwriter of note, but with A Few Small Repairs, she reaches new heights, painting hauntingly vivid images that address not only relationships but also life in general with great insight. Holiday Songs and Lullabies, Colvins 1998 release, which she recorded while she was pregnant with her daughter, was inspired by Maurice Sendaks book of childrens songs called Lullabies & Night Songs.

Colvins next release in 2001 was a much-anticipated album titled Whole New You. The album is an exploration of Colvins personal life in which she discusses topics such as motherhood and her move to Austin, Texas, where she eventually met and married Mario Erwin, an Austin photographer. Lyrics like Parents should say theyre sorry more often than they do, so let it begin with me, from the song Ill Say Im Sorry Now, express the impact her daughter has made on her life. Other tracks from Whole New You include A Matter of Minutes, Another Plane Went Down, and the title track. The album also includes harmony from artists like James Taylor on Bonefields and Charlie Sexton on Roger Wilco.

Selected discography

Live Tape, independent release, 1988.

Steady On, Columbia, 1989.

(Contributor) Acoustic Christmas, Columbia, 1990.

Fat City, Columbia, 1992.

Cover Girl, Columbia, 1994.

Round of Blues, Sony, 1995.

Live 88, Plump, 1995.

A Few Small Repairs, Columbia, 1996.

Holiday Songs and Lullabies, Columbia, 1998.

Whole New You, Columbia, 2001.

Sources

Books

Harris, Craig, The New Folk Music, White Cliffs Media Company, 1991.

Periodicals

Billboard, October 10, 1992; October 31, 1992; December 5, 1992; February 13, 1993; May 29, 1993.

Brum Beat, October 1990.

Chicago Tribune, November 12, 1992.

Detroit Free Press, June 11, 1993.

Gavin Report, January 29, 1993.

Guitar Player, January 1993; October 1993.

Harpers Bazaar, February 1990.

Hollywood Reporter, June 22, 1990; May 28, 1993.

Hudson Current (NY), December 3, 1992.

In Style, December 1998.

Los Angeles Daily News, December 12, 1992.

Melody Maker, July 10, 1993.

Metro Music Monthly (Nashville), December 1992.

Metro Times (Detroit), December 2, 1992; June 9, 1993.

Music Express Magazine, January 1993.

Musician, March 1990.

Music Week, April 24, 1993.

Newsweek, November 9, 1992.

New York Daily News, February 19, 1993.

New Yorker, May 3, 1993.

New York Newsday, May 4, 1993.

People, April 9, 1990; February 15, 1993.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 24, 1992.

Pollstar, April 5, 1993.

Request, January 1993.

Richmond Times Dispatch (VA), May 8, 1993.

Rolling Stone, January 7, 1993; February 4, 1993.

Sassy, December 1990.

Time, January 18, 1993.

Toronto Star, October 31, 1992; November 12, 1992.

USA Today, March 18, 1993.

Vogue, April 1993.

Online

Shawn Colvin, All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 1, 2002).

Additional information for this profile was provided by AGF Entertainment Ltd. and obtained from Columbia Records publicity materials.

Megan Rubiner Zinn

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"Colvin, Shawn." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Colvin, Shawn

Shawn Colvin

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

Paid Musical Dues

Won Grammy for Debut

Really Good Job

Selected discography

Sources

During the late 1980s folk-flavored music once again made its way toward the mainstream, through the work of such artists as Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Nanci Griffith, and the Indigo Girls. Shawn Colvin, after more than a decade in various music scenes, waltzed through the door these performers had opened and was met with critical awe.

Likening her to a host of great vocalists and songwritersVega, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Janis Ian, Emmylou Harrismusic critics tended toward hyperbole when they discovered Colvin. Singing of the athletics of love and the aesthetics of loss (her words not mine), Shawn Colvin is the best thing Ive heard since the sliced bread of the Jurassic era, Melody Makers Chris Roberts exclaimed. Indeed, Colvin drew praise for her profound and personal songwriting. According to Martin Johnson of New York Newsday, her songbook is a startlingly articulate chronicle of the pain of adult love, while, as Darryl Morden of the Hollywood Reporter noted, there is a child-wonder in Colvins writing that balances out her more serious work. She also thrilled critics with her voice, described by the Hudson Current as fragile as antique glass, sultry as smoke, bouncy, hypnotic, supple, and so soft its like breathing cotton. And as Peter Howell observed in the Toronto Star, Her voice wraps itself around you, like a favorite song heard on a car radio during a long night ride home.

Colvin was born on January 10, 1956, in Vermillion, South Dakota. As her parents pursued advanced degrees, they transplanted Shawn and her three siblings first to London, Ontario, and then to Carbondale, Illinois. Colvins parents were both musical; her father played guitar and banjo and loved listening to folk music. Colvin sang in the church choir, particularly enjoying church hymns, and as she told David Keeps of Harpers Bazaar, minor-key Christmas carols.

Colvin was also influenced by rock and pop, particularly the Beatles, Laura Nyro, the Bands Robbie Robertson, and Joni Mitchell. When she was ten she picked up her brothers four-string guitar and learned how to playby the time she was a teenager she was drawing album covers. I had a very rich fantasy life, Colvin revealed to Ann Kolson in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I thought Id be a prodigy. I think I really wanted to be very famous, very young.... I knew I was good... but nobody got encouraged for stuff like that in South Dakota.

Paid Musical Dues

Colvin began performing as part of a duo while in high school, a time that she described to Timothy White of

For the Record

Born January 10, 1956, in Vermillion, SD; married Simon Tassano (a musician, sound engineer, and tour manager), 1993. Education: Southern Illinois University, mid-1970s.

Began performing in folk and rock clubs, Carbondale, IL, mid-1970s; formed Shawn Colvin Band, 1976; performed solo and with various bands in Illinois, Texas, California, and New York, 1976-1983; performed solo in folk clubs, East Coast, 1983-1989; toured Europe with Suzanne Vega, 1987; released independent album Live Tape, 1988; signed with Columbia Records, 1988; released Steady On, 1989; toured U.S. and abroad, 1989.

Awards: Grammy Award for best contemporary folk recording, 1991, for Steady On, and Grammy Award nomination for best pop vocal performance, female, 1994, for I Dont Know Why; New York Music awards for best new vocalist, 1988, best debut female vocalist, 1989, for Steady On, and best folk artist, 1990.

Addresses: Record Company Columbia Records, 666 Fifth Ave., P.O. Box 4455, New York, NY 10101-4455. Management Ronald Fierstein, AGF Entertainment Ltd., 30 West 21st St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10010.

Billboard as her angry high school days, during which she always felt like an orphan and had a pretty self-destructive lifestyle. She graduated a year early and remained in town to attend Southern Illinois University. While in college she played folk and rock in local clubs and soon moved on to music full time. After a turn with her own hard-rock Shawn Colvin Band, she joined the country-swing Dixie Diesels and moved with them to Austin, Texas. Eventually Colvin returned to Carbondale, and after a brief stint back at school, she started performing again.

Colvins next move took her to California, where for a year and a half she played in small clubs. Then, in 1980, she moved to New York and joined the Buddy Miller Band. When bassist John Leventhal became part of that outfit, he and Colvin bonded over a shared love of the music of roots guitarist Ry Cooder and became involved musically and romantically. Colvin and Leventhal later formed a band that played pop music in the Steely Dan vein. At one point, she was also the only woman in the bluegrass Red Clay Ramblers. These years were not easy on Colvin; as she revealed to Gary Graff of the Detroit Free Press, she hit emotional rock bottom in the early 80s. But, with the help of Leventhal, she said, I began to have the courage to say what I really wanted to in my lyrics. While Colvin and Leventhals romantic relationship did not last, their musical collaboration did; he would be instrumental in her first major-label albums.

In 1983 Colvin returned to solo work, finding a niche in the enduring folk scene of New York Citys Greenwich Village. The Fast Folk music collective discovered her and recorded one of her earliest songs, I Dont Know Why. Colvin soon built a following in New York and extended it to folk clubs along the East Coast. Her career got a critical boost from Suzanne Vega: Colvin sang back-up on Vegas 1987 hit Luka, joined Vega on her European tour, and signed with Vegas manager.

By 1988, Colvin had arrived, at least in New York City. That year she was named best new vocalist at the New York Music Awards and released an independently produced cassette titled Live Tape. She also signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, which resulted in the release of Steady On in 1989. The album included many songs Colvin had written over the years, including some co-written by Leventhal, who also produced the collection. Dark and haunting, Steady On gave Colvin the space to address her past wanderings and exorcise some demons.

Won Grammy for Debut

Critics were impressed with the effort. John Leland of Newsweek called Steady On a debut album of eye-opening clarity. Billboards White observed, Colvin mounted a siren-like assault on the sensibilities, enticing with fair words and castle-building imagery, and then delivering concrete disclosures that ran dungeon-deep. A Sassy reader gave the album five stars, assessing it as better than your best religious experience, and gushed, I cant pick just one song to recommend because they are all just so downright funky!

Colvins critics were struck not only by her songwriting, but also by her guitar style. She became known for her unusual tunings and rhythmic playing. The percussive technique is Colvins way of keeping things lively when she plays for two hours without a band; as she explained to Guitar Players Kevin Ransom, I dont have the patience to really learn the guitar neck or do a lot of fancy picking or finger work. And, partly because Im a woman, this rhythmic style seemed like a more gripping way to grab attention and make the songs work. Colvin has also been greatly influenced by guitar virtuoso Richard Thompson, with whom she toured after the release of Steady On. I had to learn a bunch of his songs, which meant learning chord combinations Id never have thought of, she told Ransom. His melodies and chord progressions astounded me. Since then, Ive wanted to really push myself and take my playing to odd places that its never been before.

David Hajdu of the Hollywood Reporter found Colvins singing as clever as her guitar work. She uses dynamics for effect, going from whispers to full-throated belting. But her most effective vocal device is her way of slurring notes and slipping into conversational speech unexpectedly. Similarly, White noted, Colvin is an artful yet seemingly effortless vocalist whose prismatic grasp of intonation is married to a serene sense of control. Colvins colleagues seemed to agree with the music press; in 1991 the artist was awarded a Grammy Award for best contemporary folk recording for Steady On.

Following the records release, Colvin toured the U.S., as well as Canada, Europe, and Australia, performing solo and at folk festivals. Her shows were popular with fans and critics, not only for their quality but for her easy-going wit and charming stage presence, determined New York Newsdays Johnson. She was a guest on Late Night With David Letterman, The Tonight Show, and CBS This Morning, contributed vocals to a number of friends recordings and collective albums, recorded a duet with Bruce Hornsby called Lost Soul, and toured with rock stalwart Neil Young as well as Thompson. It wasnt long before she was ready to return to the studio and record another album. The result was 1992s Fat City and a major, headlining tour.

The mood of Fat City was a departure for Colvin; when she started on the project, she intended to record an album about accepting her status as a single woman, but, as fate would have it, she fell in love with Richard Thompsons sound man and tour manager, Simon Tassano, and, as she explained in Rolling Stone, It changed the tone of the songs Id written and inspired others, songs I didnt know were gonna be written. So the joke was on me, Im happy to say. Colvin and Tassano would eventually marry, in September of 1993. While John Leventhal co-produced some of the cuts on Fat City, the primary producer was Larry Klein, who also played bass on the album. Collaborating with Klein afforded an added bonusit meant meeting and working with Kleins wife, Joni Mitchell. Colvin recorded Fat City in their home studio, and as she told David Wild in Vogue, Meeting Joni was a moment I was waiting for all my life. Fat City also included contributions from a wealth of musical luminaries besides Klein and Mitchell: Thompson, Hornsby, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Booker T. Jones, the Subdudes, Chris Whitley, and Bela Fleck.

Critics raved about Fat City, thrilled that Colvin had maintained the momentum of her stunning debut. In Billboards view, the disc [fulfilled] all the promise of her preceding Steady On collection, her deceptively handsome sound concealing a wealth of narrative jolts and surprises. Nashvilles Metro Music Monthly praised the records well-read lyrics with Dylan-esque attention to detail, that shimmery, cool contralto, and a good ear for melody and arrangement; The Hudson Current reveled in the lyric finesse as well, reporting, Colvin uses words like found objects, stringing them together into collages of imagery.

One of the songs from Fat City, Colvins old standby I Dont Know Why, quickly became the critics darling. Billboard, the Chicago Tribune, and the Gavin Report were certain the song would become a classic, the latter calling it one of the most brilliantly conceived and executed songs of this decade. Reviewer Ben Edmonds, writing in Detroits Metro Times, was a rare dissenting voice: Sad to say, Fat City is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Most of the songs show flashes of something... but none fully press their advantages. Still, even this criticism was qualified, Edmonds conceding, Most contemporary folk artists would be only too happy to claim Fat City. For Shawn Colvin, its a small sophomore stumble.

Really Good Job

Despite the critical accolades, Colvin was not considered a mainstream pop artist, and her record sales reflected this. As Vogues Wild noted, no specific radio format was targeted, and as such, Colvin failed to reach the wide audience that radio play attracts. New York Newsday contributor Johnson observed that her songs had proven too folk for mainstream and too urbane for country. But, like many contemporary folksingers, Colvin enjoys a strong, dedicated following. I havent sold a zillion records, [but] these people who come out to see me I think will always be around in some numbers. Thats a good place to be, in my opinion, she remarked in a Po/tefar profile. Its a good career to have. Im not fabulously wealthy and I dont get recognized on the street, but Ive got a really, really good job.

With the advantage of hindsight, Colvin was not only happy to be where she was, but glad she had to wait so long to make her mark. Despite her childhood fantasies of becoming big and famous, she admitted to Metro Times contributor Stewart Francke that she finds her lack of notoriety a blessing, reasoning, I dont have a lot of illusions about whats happening to me now.... Bravado is a luxury for the very young. I dont have the early 20s, fearless, immortal vibe anymore. Francke too seemed thankful for her circuitous route to success, venturing, Its our gain that Colvin... knocked around for a lot of years. Because all the ennui, worry, brief rewards and futile aggregations that accompany the maintenance of faith beyond the limelight are now found in her dusky, brave voice.

Selected discography

Live Tape, 1988.

Steady On, Columbia, 1989.

(Contributor) Acoustic Christmas, Columbia, 1990.

(Contributor) Hitchiker Exampler 2, 1991.

Fat City (includes I Dont Know Why), Columbia, 1992.

(Contributor) Hitchhiker Exampler, Columbia.

Sources

Books

Harris, Craig, The New Folk Music, White Cliffs Media Company, 1991.

Periodicals

Billboard, October 10, 1992; October 31, 1992; December 5, 1992; February 13, 1993; May 29, 1993.

Brum Beat, October 1990.

Chicago Tribune, November 12, 1992.

Detroit Free Press, June 11, 1993.

Gavin Report, January 29, 1993.

Guitar Player, January 1993; October 1993.

Harpers Bazaar, February 1990.

Hollywood Reporter, June 22, 1990; May 28, 1993.

Hudson Current (NY), December 3, 1992.

Los Angeles Daily News, December 12, 1992.

Musician, March 1990.

Melody Maker, July 10, 1993.

Metro Music Monthly (Nashville), December 1992.

Metro Times (Detroit), December 2, 1992; June 9, 1993.

Music Express Magazine, January 1993.

Music Week, April 24, 1993.

Newsweek, November 9, 1992.

New York Daily News, February 19, 1993.

New York Newsday, May 4, 1993.

New Yorker, May 3, 1993.

People, April 9, 1990; February 15, 1993.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 24, 1992.

Pollstar, April 5, 1993.

Request, January 1993.

Richmond Times Dispatch (VA), May 8, 1993.

Rolling Stone, January 7, 1993; February 4, 1993.

Sassy, December 1990.

Time, January 18, 1993.

Toronto Star, October 31, 1992; November 12, 1992.

USA Today, March 18, 1993.

Vogue, April 1993.

Additional information for this profile was provided by AGF Entertainment Ltd. and obtained from Columbia Records publicity materials.

Megan Rubiner Zinn

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Colvin, Shawn." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Colvin, Shawn." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/colvin-shawn

"Colvin, Shawn." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/colvin-shawn

Colvin, Shawn

SHAWN COLVIN

Born: Vermillion, South Dakota, 10 January 1956

Genre: Folk

Best-selling album since 1990: A Few Small Repairs (1996)

Hit songs since 1990: "Steady On," "Sunny Came Home," "Nothin' On Me"


Shawn Colvin is a folk-influenced singer/songwriter who toured the Northeast folk music circuit until she landed a recording deal with Columbia Records in 1987. Her debut album, Steady On, earned her fans with both critics and the general public, along with a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Recording.

The sweet-voiced Colvin is considered a folk-pop musician who became well known with her successful album A Few Small Repairs (1996). Co-produced and co-written with her longtime collaborator, the multi-instrumentalist John Leventhal, A Few Small Repairs has been called the "breakup album" by critics because Colvin wrote it on the heels of her divorce from her first husband, Simon Tassano. A Few Small Repairs won two Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for the hit "Sunny Came Home."

Colvin grew up in the big sky country of South Dakota and learned the guitar by age ten. Like many songwriters of her generation, she was influenced by the Beatles, but because of her folk leanings, she also found inspiration in Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro. She attended college but dropped out and began to pursue a career in music, setting her sights on the folk music scene in the Northeast. In 1987 she signed with Columbia Records and soon after produced her major-label album debut, Steady On (1989), which earned her a Grammy in 1990 for Best Contemporary Folk Artist. The acclaim continued with two more Grammy nominations for Fat City (1992) and another for Cover Girl (1994), a tribute to her apprentice days.

Before the release of A Few Small Repairs (1996), Colvin had a small folk music following. Her Grammy-winning album catapulted her into the spotlight and earned her raves. The wise and empowering story-songs examine heartbreak and disappointment and avoid clichés in favor of exploring a full, complex range of emotions. From the rocking, angry "Get Out of This House" to the unfettered self-confidence of "Nothin' on Me" to the smash single "Sunny Came Home," with its irresistible chorus, it is Colvin's best effort.

Colvin took a few years off after A Few Small Repairs, remarried after the difficult divorce, and had a baby. A Whole New You (2001), another album co-written with and co-produced by John Leventhal, finds Colvin singing with a renewed zest. In the title track's chorus, she marvels, "Go and wish on every star that's fallen / Shake your head in wonder when it's all too good to be true / Like a whole new you." Despite its second-person orientation, it could easily be read as a personal journal entry or a memo to herself, so drastic were the life changes that ensued from the success of A Few Small Repairs.

Shawn Colvin has carved a niche for herself as a thoughtful, clear-eyed songwriter with a honeyed voice; she has achieved success in the world of mainstream pop music without losing her integrity or her love of the craft.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Steady On (Columbia, 1989); Fat City (Columbia, 1992); Cover Girl (Columbia, 1994); A Few Small Repairs (Columbia, 1996); Whole New You (Columbia, 2001).

carrie havranek

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"Colvin, Shawn." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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