'Skateboard punk rocker' no more


Kind Hearted Woman
Michelle Shocked
Reviewed by Jen Crothers

Michelle Shocked has not had an easy road in the music business. It started with the unauthorised release of what she now calls the "Texas Campfire Thefts" (The Texas Campfire Tapes). Then for the last two years she has been prevented from touring Britain because of a court ruling in favour of her former manager and agent. Last year Shocked's record company, Mercury Records, broke its contract by rejecting the material that makes up her latest recording, Kind Hearted Woman.

Apparently the business affairs department of Mercury wasn't impressed with Shocked's work. According to it, Captain Swing and Arkansas Traveller were "fucked" albums and "Anchorage" was a lousy song. Her broad base of fans would not agree. Unfortunately only those attending the concerts of her recent Australian tour got the chance to buy Kind Hearted Woman.

There is no doubting that Shocked is an amazing storyteller. That talent mixed with a voice that swings from a southern drawl to a smooth, urbane rap gives us a performer who demands to be listened to.

Kind Hearted Woman is filled with raw pain. The loss of her grandmother last year has formed the basis for songs exploring loss, grief and bitterness. At her concerts her wavering voice betrayed the sadness she was feeling.

It is hard to read the lyrics to the songs without a tear coming to the eye. As Shocked said, "I've sung a song about a stillborn birth, about a young widow, about a crop failure, about a man whose mother is killed, about a boy whose father is killed and about a child who dies". Apparently the last three songs are the happy, redemptive ones. Clearly, Kind Hearted Woman is very different from Shocked's previous albums.

"It's better to live through unresolved things than try to resolve the unresolvable", she said at the Sydney concert I attended. Shocked has moved on from her past. She is no longer a "skateboard punk rocker". She even distances herself from that time in her life by calling it a stereotype and caricature that she has had the courage to grow out of. To someone who liked that "caricature", these words rest uneasily, but the power of her performance dragged me off and laid my cynicism to rest.