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Shawn Colvin DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH Published by: William Morrow/ Harper Collins


At the 1998 Grammy’s Shawn


Colvin’s co-write with John Leventhal Sunny Came Home won two awards, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The lyrics are Shawn’s and they encircle a troubled individual with vengeance in mind, a dangerous combination and as Shawn says in this absorbing autobiography: ‘Sunny is me, everything I write is through me.’ What a story she tells, born in


South Dakota and after early raisings there, London, Ontario and more tellingly a very unhappy schooling in Carbondale , Illinois. Her parents reached there when Shawn was aged just 12, both were mature college students after selling an inherited newspaper business. An early love of folk and country music came to Shawn from them. Her early heroes were Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and James Taylor and I loved the tale of how on long drives her brother and sister would sing along to the old Carl Perkins song, Daddy Sang Bass, immortalised by Johnny Cash‘. Shawn learned to play guitar at the


age of 10, started doing local dates at 17 and shortly after formed her own rock band but did not take too long before deciding that rock music


110 Maverick


was not for her. In fact it severely strained her voice forcing a career break and subsequent move to western swing music with an Austin based band called Dixie Diesels. During her twenties there was a lot of relocating, a directionless year in San Francisco and happier times in Austin and New York. It was in New York, while working with Buddy Miller and touring with Suzanne Vega, that Shawn came to the attention of Columbia Records. She was signed up and thus began probably the most stable relationship of her life, it lasted 15 years coming to an end in 2005. Shawn has some interesting observations on the current shape of the music business stating that the big labels are not interested in building long term connections anymore, they want instant success, flavour of the month and they move on. This endorses Vince Gill’s recent opinion ‘you are lucky if you get three years in this business now.’ Anyway from Columbia Shawn moved on to Warner Music’s Nonesuch label and has just released her second album with them, the critically well received ALL FALL DOWN. The schooling problems and


unsettled early career took their toll on Shawn’s personal life and by the time she was 22 years old she had been through anorexia and had begun a long engagement with depression and alcoholism. The dalliances with cocaine and opium were still to come. Depression slaughters the strongest and after many years of unrelenting attacks and countless different treatments she seems to imply that it is under better control now, I for one certainly hope so. I have not mentioned the two


divorces and the manifold personal relationships, the married men, the guys already spoken for, the guys on tour, the photographers, and amongst several others, the occasional fan— Stokes by calling name and he turned out to be one of the more reliable. My favourite Colvin track is Karl Wallinger’s When The Rainbow Ends with classic kiss off line ‘pack your bags, clear the floor and step out through the open door,’ spoken with


considerable personal experience one suspects. Shawn herself has said that, with plenty of regrets and now with the benefit of some distance, she has tried to be light hearted about this area of her life ‘I hope that is comical for readers to keep track of all of them.’ She succeeds and stays the right side of the ‘too much information’ divide, best illustrated by the anecdote she tells of having a good feeling for Rosanne Cash’s guitarist Steuart Smith at the time that Rosanne was dating her now husband and Shawn’s ex John Leventhal and Shawn’s record producer Larry Klein was also doing the same job for Rodney Crowell, Rosanne’s ex-! At the back of the book there is


a long list of personal friends and people she has worked with in the music business and who have supported and helped Shawn through her many trying times, Buddy Miller, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Patty Griffin get particularly kind words. However, as with all such lists it is the names omitted, and Colvin watchers will be aware of them, that are probably the more telling. Finally, it should also be noted that


Shawn had won another Grammy in 1991, for Best Contemporary Folk Album with her first album for Columbia STEADY ON. In Shawn’s own words ‘what I’ve always said about winning a Grammy Award is that there isn’t one bad thing about it and it certainly looks great on your resume and is super helpful in convincing your parents and your past teachers that you are not a lost cause after all.’ Shawn, you’ve won three Grammys and that makes you special all right. Sunny Came Back ends with ‘she’s


out there on her own and all right,’ as poster songs go it’s up there with John Denver’s Some Days Are Diamonds. Sunny and Shawn are both survivors and one thing is for sure is that after reading this very well written and at times harrowing tale and you meet up with Shawn you would want to say thanks for a fine memoir and well done. Paul Collins


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