Shawn Colvin has a storied past. Her career began with her initial move to Austin where she got her start as part of a western swing band. She then made a foray into folk music, relocating to New York City, playing with Buddy Miller with whom she’d later develop an ongoing musical relationship, performing off-Broadway and eventually playing a role in the so-called fast folk movement that sprung up in Greenwich Village in the early-‘80s Her first big break came when she was hired to sing backup vocals on the song “Luka” by Suzanne Vega, gaining her a recording contract with Columbia Records which led, in turn to her well received debut album Steady On, a record that brought her a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
You probably hear Shawn Colvin and think of her beautiful '90s hit "Sunny Came Home," but ask anyone in the folk scene — those who followed her beyond Top 40 fame — and you'll know she's much more than that one song. (In fact, she even had a Grammy under her belt nearly a decade before "Sunny" took to the charts.)For her latest release, Uncovered, Colvin put songwriting on the back burner and decided to cover some of the American (and Canadian) greats. It's not her first foray into covers; 1994's Cover Girl also included a track by Tom Waits and was similarly produced by Steuart Smith.
You have to wonder why Shawn Colvin put Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest” first on her most recent album of cover songs in more than 20 years. Not only is she competing with the Boss’s version, Colvin takes on Emmylou Harris’ successful country-style version. Colvin’s rendition is a bit slower and her protagonist more worn down.
Shawn Colvin is no stranger to a good cover. She's sung the songs of other writers throughout her career, even finding space for Warren Zevon's "Tenderness on the Block" on her 1992 breakthrough Fat City, but she hasn't devoted an entire album to covers since 1994's Grammy-nominated Cover Girl. Arriving 21 years after that album, Uncovered feels slightly spare and quiet in comparison -- there are no productions as bright and full as that on "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" -- but it follows the same basic formula as that album, with Colvin finding the quiet, intimate heart lying in each of these songs.
Shawn Colvin has joked that she “had writer’s block before I was even a writer. ” Having penned some powerful songs (“Sunny Came Home” won two Grammys in 1998), she’s also released a pair of cover albums. This spare newcomer places Colvin’s subtly elastic voice at the center of ably curated acoustic covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest” (a jaw-dropping version), Paul Simon’s “American Tune” (capturing its bittersweet vulnerability), Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” (with David Crosby’s hushed vocals suggesting his “Guinnevere” period), and John Fogerty’s “Lodi,” about a journeyman musician to whom Colvin can clearly relate.
Having penned her way to a trio of Grammys, Shawn Colvin originally honed her considerable skills covering Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, and has been known to incorporate songs by such diverse artists as Cee-Lo into her live sets. Uncovered, the longtime local's second covers album, both respects its material's wellsprings and celebrates them through a different, and at times unrecognizable, lens. "Tougher Than the Rest" exemplifies this musical trompe l'oeil, its guitar-picked longing completely masking the original swagger and slicked-up synth of Bruce Springsteen's version.