Celebrating 30 years of excellence with Shawn Colvin’s ‘Steady On’

Categories:  The Arts    Music
Friday, September 27th, 2019 at 10:52 AM
Celebrating 30 years of excellence with Shawn Colvin’s ‘Steady On’ by Livia Homerski

One of my earliest musical memories is punctuated by rhythmic, dainty triangle taps as a sweet but rich voice streamed out of my boombox like the Pacific current, carrying me across the world. 

“China gets broken and it will never be the same. Boats on the ocean find their way back again,” rang out, some of the first lyrics to transport me somewhere else in both time and place. I held my DreamGlow Barbie so we both wouldn’t go overboard in my bed, floating on the sea of my bedroom carpet as we listened to “Steady On.” 

Shawn Colvin has been one of the most influential musicians to me as a child, young woman, writer, singer and songwriter. I heard her often in the earliest years of my life and she was even the first artist I saw in concert. I saw her in 2006 as she was touring with Brandi Carlile, a year before Carlile released her critically acclaimed album “The Story.” 

So, when I opened Spotify on Sept. 13 to check out my release radar, and I saw “Steady On (30th Anniversary Acoustic Edition),” I initially scrolled past it, and then back up in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that “Steady On” was really released 30 years ago and had managed to stay with me for all 21 years of my life, even when I least expected it, “like a diamond in the rough.” 

Although Colvin previously re-released “A Few Small Repairs” — the album that launched her to mainstream success through the single “Sunny Came Home” — on its 20th anniversary in 2017, the album saw only a few minor production tweaks. There were also some recent live versions of songs from the album.

This re-release of “Steady On,” though, gives us Colvin at her most essential: just her and her guitar. This is what you get at her live shows; this is what I got when I saw her in 2006; this is what I’ll get when I see her on tour with Mary Chapin Carpenter next month, and what you’ll get in pretty much any live performance uploaded to YouTube. 

It hearkens back to her experience being a live performer in various folk and country circuits in New York City at the very beginning of her music career in the ’70s. Colvin has come full circle, going back to her roots on the re-release of her breakthrough album. 

Colvin’s phenomenal voice is still just that, but aging. As this album is composed of just her and her guitar, you can’t help but notice the slight loss of elasticity in her runs, yet much of her finesse has remained intact. 

“Ricochet In Time” is a standout track in terms of vocal performance: she plays with dynamics, taking turns commanding the listener’s attention by letting her guitar ring out as her falsetto fades away softly. 

I also thought that the bounding “The Story” was one of the strongest performances on this release. Colvin’s voice is especially emotive and energetic as she sings about glimmers from the past: “But in the cellar downstairs waiting for the bomb scare, he would hide from us under the kitchen.” 

Although her voice is one of the most commanding aspects of her musicianship, Colvin’s guitar work remains as impressive as ever. She is one of the few guitarists I’ve seen that can strum, pluck a melody, and carry a tune, all with technical complexity.

“Shotgun Down the Avalanche” is one of her most impressive displays of guitar skill in her overall body of work, and this version does not lack one bit of the intensity of the version recorded 30 years ago. The bridge, a reverb-heavy solo, is stripped down to just one track of fingerpicking, but feels just as full, especially when Colvin hits the notes of the chorus over the accompanying rhythmic notes. 

Colvin’s songwriting and incredible talent makes her shine as a fearless creative in an industry that at the time, was more concerned with trying to stuff women musicians in a box, rather than focus on their substance. Although it took Colvin roughly 20 years to break through the mainstream’s barrier, it shows that with persistence and genuine love for your craft, you can achieve beyond your dreams. 

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