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Whole New You

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Album Review

Whole New You is an appropriate title for Shawn Colvin's fourth studio album of new material, her first in four-and-a-half years. Much has happened in the interim. In career terms, Colvin had made several modestly selling albums before A Few Small Repairs appeared in the fall of 1996. The album was another modest seller until "Sunny Came Home" hit the singles charts in the spring of 1997, going on to hit number one on the adult contemporary lists and the Top Ten on the pop charts. Then it won the Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammys, while A Few Small Repairs spent a year in the charts and sold close to a million copies. That means that Colvin can no longer be considered a niche artist, but must compete in the mainstream, even though she is actually a one-hit wonder up to this point. She reacted as you might suspect an artist would after a breakthrough release; she maintained her exposure by doing a Christmas album and some soundtrack work while taking her time on a follow-up. Personally, her life has been at least as tumultuous. A Few Small Repairs was her divorce album, but during the lengthy run-up to Whole New You she remarried and had a child, which clearly has given her a different perspective (and another reason for that title). Within all this change, however, there are certain constants. She continues to collaborate with writer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist John Leventhal, who continues to come up with imaginative musical tracks clearly informed by mid-'60s pop sensibilities. The title track (and first single), for example, is distinctly Beatles-esque, with twangy guitar and George Martin-style spare string arrangement, while "Bonefields" employs what by now should be called the Burt Bacharach Memorial Horn Trick, a sole flugelhorn playing a countermelody at the end of the tune. The arrangements are full of such echoes, but they remain echoes; Leventhal weaves instruments and effects together evocatively, but not overtly. Something similar can be said about Colvin's lyrics, which she sings in her characteristically becalmed voice, with its timbre that suggests Helen Kane (the "boop-boop-de-doop" girl) without the humor and her phrasing that gulps syllables for emotional resonance. Though she is given to making simple statements, they are imbedded in impressionistic reflections on life. Over and over, she sings of being committed, whether she wants to be or not: "I can't find my way to stay and I can't find my way to go and I can't give up without a fight" ("A Matter of Minutes"); "Anywhere you go I will go there" ("Anywhere You Go"); "I'm bound to you and there's no in-between" ("Bound to You"). In a sense, the album's 11 tracks make up one elliptical song in which the narrator thinks about the choices she has made recently with a sense that those choices are irrevocable. For the most part, she doesn't mind that, it seems, but she's certainly aware of it. Amid the various references to steadfastness and the allusions to childhood, there is little passion, but plenty of clear-headed acceptance. This is an album about marriage and family, not love, at least not the kind of romantic love that most pop songs are concerned with; in fact, the word "love" is never mentioned. For that reason, the most interesting song is the most complex one, "Another Plane Went Down," a seemingly random assemblage of news reports and nightmares that, in its way, feeds into the album's main theme. After all, to have a sense that you have finally found a home that depends on your relationship to other people is to fear that some accident will take it away from you. Whole New You may not contain a song that will spark sales and awards the way "Sunny Came Home" did ("Bound to You" would make a great single, though), but anyone who, like the artist herself, has come to the safe harbor of family life (even with its many challenges) after a long, uncertain voyage through personal relationships and life experiences will appreciate Colvin's ruminations on the subject.

Customer Reviews

Steady On...

Just what this album is. A steady album any Shawn Colvin fan will love. In fact, this may be my favourite Shawn Colvin album. I have so many favourites on this disc, of course none that were ever main stream hits, but that is not why I (or many other fans i presume) listen to Colvin. Her lyrics are simple but effective, her melodies just the same. These songs are SO catchy! Once i heard this album once, I could not stop listening again. The title track is beautifully introspective. This song has happened to everyone. Mr. Levon is another song with a minor key that has a dark sound to it. The upbeat Whole New You, Bound to You, Nothing Like You and Anywhere You Go make me want to move to the music with a huge smile on my face. Great songs to listen to in your car on your way to work. :) The closing track, I'll Say I'm Sorry Now is as beautiful as it is short and simple. One of my favourite tracks on the album. Buy this album you are a Colvin fan already and if you are not, this may be the album that could get you into her. It is very accessible.


Born: January 10, 1956 in Vermillion, SD

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Shawn Colvin is one of the leading lights of the so-called "new folk movement" that began in the late '80s. Although she grew out of the somewhat limited "woman with a guitar" school, she kept the form fresh with a diverse approach, avoiding the genre's clichéd sentiments and all-too-often formulaic arrangements in favor of a more personal, pop-influenced style. Colvin's debut record won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1991, but it was her 1997 single, "Sunny Came Home," that...
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