Michelle Shocked’s new album, “Soul of My Soul,” is perhaps her most musically diverse, containing at least one tender love ballad, a screeching punk rock number, a gospel song and a bit of soul.
But what makes it rich are her lyrics which are all about love: love for her new man and love for this country. Although, I’m sure some would argue with the latter.
About half of the 10 songs are written about love and her boyfriend, fine artist David Willardson, and the rest are deftly crafted protest songs, the type of songs few artists, if any, are singing anymore.
Some critics have written that these attacks at the Bush era were released too late, yet they miss the point. Shocked is singing not only about Bush-era mistakes but about the history of injustices since the Revolution and the need for concerned citizens like herself to fight against them. And isn’t that the true American story?
Her songs also maintain their relevance because things haven’t turned around yet under the Obama administration and Shocked, after all, was a Kucinich supporter.
Even if you don’t agree with Shocked’s politics, you have to admire her boldness to say what few people are willing to say publicly: that this country has strayed far from its roots; her ability to put her complicated feelings not only into words, but into poetry; and finally her sincerity.
What Is A Patriot?
In one song she lets us all have it, singing about Americans being in denial, about building “our house on sinking sand,” and then asks if we are now “reaping our harvest of greed?” She then takes aim at her critics, saying you can call her unpatriotic or a traitor for saying all of this but she’s “singing this because I can,” and you know she’s also singing this because she still cares.
Raging against the government, the unchecked greed of a materialistic society, or the status quo is not new for Shocked but what is new is that she indicates on this album that she may be coming to some sort of peace about it all and she does this in the very clever song “Other People.“ What at first sounds like a woman about to break up with a lover turns into a song about a citizen about to take a break from her preoccupation with the politics of this country.
Right before the chorus, she reveals, “I’m saying this citizen to country, not woman to man.” And then the chorus starts, “We should see other people; I believe we should see other people.”
Honesty in a Tumultuous Career
Shocked has always been honest to herself, her music and her fans throughout her tumultuous career.
She was first discovered when someone made a recording of her singing around a campfire at a folk festival in East Texas in the 1980s. That led to her first record on a small label in London that caught the attention of some major American labels. She told a producer for Mercury Records who was trying to sign her that the budget for her first record with them was too much and why didn’t they give her a quarter of it and use the rest to sign some other artists.
A few years later when Mercury wouldn’t allow her to create what she wanted to create, she sued them for slavery and won. The lawsuit took several years to come to its conclusion and in the meantime she was not allowed to release anything new — a hardship that threatened to ruin her newfound success with her hit single “Anchorage.” It was an act of defiance that other artists admired, including Bruce Springsteen who said he wished he had as much courage as she did to willingly sacrifice her fame and success for her principles.
For Shocked it’s never been about the money, the success or the fame. I once saw her in a small club in Lowell, Mass. Before the show she distributed small flyers on each table with a list of the songs she intended to play that night. She handed me one and explained that on the back was a list of most of her other songs and the audience was going to vote on what she would play for an encore.
I was stunned that she was mingling with me and others as they arrived at the club and asked her “What are you doing mingling with us mere mortals?” She patted me on the back and replied in that sly way of hers, “Oh, I’m mortal. You can be sure of that.”
She may be, but her music and her story which are one in the same, will certainly outlive us.
(Photo Courtesy of MichelleShocked.com .)