Hoping smaller is better


September 01, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

She felt lost in the shuffle, so it was time to go.

After about 15 years, Grammy winner Shawn Colvin decided to part ways with mighty Columbia Records and move to the smaller Nonesuch label. It's a new beginning.

"I wanted a smaller label that would be more open to the type of projects I want to do," says the folk-pop artist, who's calling from her hotel suite in Santa Rosa, Calif. Colvin performs at Rams Head Live on Saturday night. "I wanted a label that was interested in me and my career."

During her stay at Columbia, Colvin became a major star. For a minute. In 1997, her biggest hit, "Sunny Came Home," won Grammys for record of the year and song of the year. A Few Small Repairs, the CD from which the single was culled, reached platinum sales. Of the seven albums the South Dakota native released through the label, Repairs was the biggest seller.

"I think when you have a record that makes money, there's pressure, sure," says Colvin, 49. "The label wanted another big seller, and I did, too."

That didn't happen. But Colvin continued to tour regularly. And she had long established herself as one of the freshest artists on the folk-pop scene. Her Nonesuch debut isn't due out until early next year, and the Austin, Texas, resident is pretty tight-lipped about it.

"I don't wanna say too much about it," she says firmly. But she reveals that the album is produced by longtime songwriting partner John Leventhal.

While Colvin fans wait to hear her new music, they can revisit the material that brought her critical respect and, for a short time, platinum sales. Columbia recently issued Polaroids: A Greatest Hits Collection along with a DVD set of the performer's videos.

"I was involved in all of it," Colvin says of the best-of set. "I just went through my records and picked [the songs] I wanted. It was gratifying to look back at all the work and remember the time that went into it."

Though nothing from her acclaimed Live '88 album appears on the 15-cut collection, it is still a satisfying summary of Colvin's career. Many of the songs -- "Steady On," "Diamond in the Rough," "I Don't Know Why" -- have held up well over the years. The lyrical poignancy and emotional honesty, two Colvin hallmarks, still resonate. Though she isn't one of the most distinctive singers around, her reserved, breathy approach has always served her songs well. But beyond the smart lyrics and sensitive singing style, Colvin's tunes benefited from tasteful production -- usually prominent guitars and a strong rhythm section with occasional, somewhat eerie synth keyboards. Perhaps the most bombastic cut on Polaroids is the singer's cover of Sting's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." (Of course, Colvin changes the gender.) But her vocals and guitar still manage to float above the strings and percussion.

"The album is snapshots of my career," Colvin says. "It was great to sit back and review it." As for future projects, she hopes to dive into a duets album and concept CDs.

"It's not an easy time for an artist like me," the singer says. "It forces me to look at other ways to get my music heard. And hopefully it'll work at the new label."

See Shawn Colvin with John Hiatt at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place, Saturday night at 8. Tickets are $30 in advance and $33 at the door. Call 410-244-1131 or visit www.ramsheadlive.com. They are at Washington's 9:30 Club Sunday. Tickets are $35.

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