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Soul of My Soul

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Album Review

Michelle Shocked is an artist who likes to reach for the grand gesture in the recording studio — most of her albums are built around some broad overriding theme, she's fond of epic-scale sessions with a wide variety of musicians, and in 2005 she released three full-length albums of newly recorded material on the same day. So what's most startling about 2009's Soul of My Soul is its modesty and accessibility — the album features ten songs that spin by in a mere 35 minutes, and it's the closest thing to a radio-friendly pop/rock album that Shocked has ever released. Devin Powers produced the album and played most of the instruments, and he's given Shocked an engaging set of tracks to work with, from the light R&B of "Liquid Prayer" and the sassy dance-friendly pop of "Paperboy" to the gentle contemporary folk feel of "Other People" and the full-on rock of "Giant Killer." The sound of the album fits this batch of songs, which for the most part are more playful than one might expect from Shocked, especially the sly and sexy "Paperboy" and the plainspoken affirmations of love in "Waterproof" and "Love's Song." Shocked is in fine voice here, and she seems to be having a lot of fun making like a pop diva or a rock & roll belter. Curiously for Shocked, it's when Soul of My Soul ventures into deeper waters that the album is least effective. "Ballad of the Battle of the Ballot and the Bullet, Pt. 1: Ugly Americans" is a sharply pointed political broadside against the abuses of the George W. Bush administration and the crackdown on dissent under his rule, while "Other People" and "Pompeii" more subtly but clearly deal with the failures of W's reign. While the songs are intelligent, well-written, and obviously sincere, their appearance on an album released about three and a half months after Barack Obama's inauguration feels curious — it's not as if all the issues they raise have vanished, but with the primary target of her rage out of office and rejected by a majority of Americans (who voted his party out of control of both Congress and the White House), it feels like beating a horse that isn't going anywhere soon. Released during the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign, Soul of My Soul would have sounded both exciting and up to date; as it stands, in the spring of 2009 it's a surprisingly strong exercise in grown-up pop that feels just a bit thematically dated.

Customer Reviews

Great!

Such a gifted story-teller! This album is a much awaited addition to my Michelle collection!

My favorite MS since Arkansas Traveler

Arkansas Traveler is one of the top 5 albums ever recorded in my opinion. My wife and I have listened to it hundreds of times since first hearing it when we were in college. On first listen, this album is almost as good as that one. I'm very excited to get a new album of this caliber. Highly recommended.

Focused and accessible album of love and anger

After the artistic bonanza of 2005’s CD triple-shot (the eclectic Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Disney covers Got No Strings and the Latin-influenced Mexican Standoff), Michelle Shocked returns with a passionate album of rock, folk and a touch of soul. Aside from her theme albums, the mood here is among the most focused of her catalog, nicely summed by the quote in her album’s press: “I think the meditation these past several years, ever since I stopped drinking, really, has been to jettison rage without losing the ability to feel strong feelings.” Her lyrics are deeply emotional, bitter and angry at the lasting effects of the Bush administration, and tender and loving towards the “official love of her life,” artist David Willardson. Luckily, it’s not all sappy love songs and angry denunciations, as Shocked mixes folk, soul and punkishly loud rock amidst her twin topical inspirations. Her sunny relationship gets the larger share, including the meta-love lead-off that offers the well-worn just-in-love realization that love songs aren’t necessarily for everyone else. The more intimate “Heart to Heart” and “True Story” may be overly sincere for some listeners; the well-worn “two hearts beating as one,” for example, doesn’t live up to Shocked’s typical craft. More original is the salacious “Paperboy,” sung from the perspective of a newspaper’s lusty recipient, and a trio of songs that eye American society. First among the jeremiads is “Ballad of the Battle of the Ballot and the Bullet,” which excoriates Americans for hiding in denials and asking “are we reaping a harvest of grief?” Shocked’s obviously not ready to move past the misdeeds of the Bush administration and finds the national character in need of repair. She pictures herself as David taking shots at political and corporate Goliaths on the punk-rock “Giant Killer,” and likens the eruption of Vesuvius to the destruction spewed by corporate America on “Pompeii.” The social critiques are sharp, but the love songs keep the album from turning into one long diatribe. Shocked’s fans will enjoy the passion and musical focus; those drawn in by Kaiser Permanente’s commercials will find this a good entry point to her catalog. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Biography

Born: February 24, 1962 in Dallas, TX

Genre: Rock

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

Michelle Shocked was born Michelle Johnston in Dallas, TX, in 1962, where she spent her early childhood traveling around army bases. In 1977, she ran away from her Mormon fundamentalist mother to live with her father, who introduced her to country bluesmen Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly, as well as contemporary songwriters Guy Clark and Randy Newman. She spent the next several years exploring the folk underground, spending the early '80s in Austin, where she began honing her own songwriting skills....
Full Bio