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These Four Walls
Among the most consistent alterna-folkie singer/songwriters, Shawn Colvin has returned after a five-year layoff with the satisfying These Four Walls.
After achieving breakout status and a Grammy with 1997's A Few Small Repairs, an album particularly memorable for its unflinching look at spousal abuse in hit single "Sonny Came Home," Colvin released another album in 2001 before putting her career on the low burner to have a baby and raise a family.
Using long-time producer and accompanist John Leventhal once again as a musical foil, Colvin hasn't lost a beat, blending rootsy, acoustic gems like "Summer Dress" and the title song with punchy heartland rockers like "Tuff Kid" and "The Bird."
Reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen in her descriptive lyrics, economic use of language and ability to create a novel-like atmosphere in a three-minute pop song, Colvin outclasses most other songwriters mining the adult contemporary genre. Her choice of cover tunes is exquisite, too, with moving versions of Paul Westerberg's low-fi sleeper "Even Here We Are" and the Bee Gees' classic "Words."
Like a hybrid of brainy Suzanne Vega and brawny Lucinda Williams, Colvin can sound as soft and delicate or as self-assured and rambunctious as each song demands. Even if it comes only every five years, a visit by someone of her caliber is always welcome.
Silver and Fire
An Australian emigre to London, M. Craft is an unreformed folkie with a weakness for a Sixties Barnaby Street bossa nova beat.
Craft's musical proclivities are prominent on the jazzy title song of this debut, as well as on "Emily Snow," but there's nothing retro or Austin Powers-like about the earnest compositions on Silver and Fire. Craft presents himself as a throwback to the days of Donovan and Flower Power as filtered through an indie approach.
But his ambitions - as well as that bossa nova sound - are too much to handle.The pop-influenced "You are the Music" is only the latest in a long line of songs using obvious musical metaphors - others that spring to mind include Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs" and Pink's "God is a DJ" - and it's not much better than its predecessors.
But just as the listener gets ready to write Craft off, a series of Silver and Fire songs shows he's got some potential after all. Craft brings out his inner Elliott Smith on the lovely "I Got Nobody Waiting For Me," displays his indie credibility on "Love Knows How to Fight" and shows a sense of humor with the Phil Spector-meets-The Who-and-Herman's Hermits power pop of "Lucile (Where Did the Love Go?)."
That bossa nova beat returns, however, for "Snowbird," and one's patience begins to wear thin, not only with the music, but the cliched poetry masquerading as lyrics. (Sample: "She caught the sunlight in her eye, underneath the winter sky, I'll paint the world until I die ... One day I'll spread my wings and fly.") Cat Stevens, this isn't.
The lyrics improve on the subtle closing solo acoustic piece "Teardrop Tattoo," which resembles "Julia" or one of those early post-Beatles John Lennon ballads. But once again, Craft figures out a way to mar the song - this time an annoying rain shower that sprinkles in the background throughout the song.
On second thought, maybe Craft really is auditioning for the soundtrack to the next Austin Powers film.