Over the last few decades, Americana has evolved to encompass a myriad of sounds rooted in folk, country, blues, gospel, and rock & roll. And while fans and critics may never agree on exactly how to define it, one thing is certain: It’s a sound borne of our need to express all the hurt and joy bursting from our hearts. Three-time Grammy winner Shawn Colvin stopped the industry in its tracks with her arresting 1989 debut, Steady On. The following spring, Colvin took home the GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Folk Album, legitimizing a burgeoning genre that’s grown ever stronger and richer with time. As the record’s 30th anniversary looms, the trailblazing singer and songwriter readies a truly mesmerizing acoustic reinvention of her breakthrough release, lacing up each track with fresh layers of warmth, charm, and wisdom.
With her wistful revisitation of these well-traveled songs, Colvin’s lyrics come into sharp focus. “You can cry like an angel when there are no words,” she sings, offering an outstretched hand that is at once steady and comforting.“Shotgun Down the Avalanche” intermingles melancholy with the resignation of a failed romance, her world-weary voice nearly whispering the sorrow of being taken down by a broken relationship. “The Story” thumps along the dusty highway of life, telling the “story” about her upbringing and place in the family, written as a talk with her sister—each experience cherished as a badge of honor.
“I was 32 years old, and the dream of my life had been fulfilled,” Colvin says, “not only because I made an album but mostly because I had written or co-written every song, an accomplishment that was hard-won. I was so proud. My feeling was then—and still is—that if I never made another album, Steady On would have been enough.”
Colvin is humble when discussing her work, while fully aware of the inspiration her legacy has provided to/for countless aspiring artists in the years since her debut. The newly-recorded version of Steady Onstrips each song to the core, placing Colvin’s songwriting masterclass on full display. “I’ve played these songs countless times, primarily as a solo acoustic artist,” she says. “All in all, this is the incarnation that feels most genuine. This represents who I am as an artist and all I ever wanted to be, and I believe it does its predecessor proud.”
Able to dissect her own work with a sharper scalpel, entries such as “The Dead of the Night” and “Diamond in the Rough” emerge as exemplary, authentic jewels of Americana. Her voice glides across her gritty melodies with a delicate, at-times towering flourish, as she views these time-tested songs through the lens of her current world. As she tells it, her day-to-day in 2019 is spent training for triathlons, catching up on episodes of Project Runway (she’s an avid seamstress), and seeing as many movies as possible. Of course, touring remains her bread and butter, and her time on the open road has allowed her songs to soar.
Now with her daughter of college-age and off at school, Colvin has entered a new phase of life that allows freedom to explore. And this involves seeking out more contemporary sounds (often recommended by her daughter), including favorites Beyonce and Frank Ocean. “I describe Frank as Stevie Wonder on another planet,” Colvin says. “He’s deep musically, lyrically and vocally—he takes me somewhere.”
In keeping with the times, Colvin has also acclimated to current social-media trends, turning her attention to mastering Instagram, and also participating in the larger online conversation about women in the country and Americana scenes. She recalls confronting many of the same issues when she was a young artist. “Even with Lilith Fair and the onslaught of female singer-songwriters and musicians, it was verboten to play two female artists back to back on the radio. The programmers were like, ‘We can’t do this.’
“I’m grateful for the Grammy accolades, but there was one year when a lot of other women were nominated for top awards and the way they dealt with it was to put us on stage at the same time and have us each do 45 seconds of each of our songs. I felt like it was a pageant, like I should be wearing a sash. You can’t help but wonder—would it have been the same approach had it been a bunch of men?”
The acoustic anniversary edition of Steady On was recorded at Austin’s Arlyn Studios with head engineer Jacob Sciba (Steve Earle, Dierks Bentley, Willie Nelson), mixed by Simon Tassano and mastered by Emily Lazar. The adventure of this stripped-down set lies in its new color palette. Organic and rootsy, Colvin’s voice ripples with edgy maturity, allowing her to excavate deeper meaning from songs she’s played for decades. It’s a captivating listen—distilling the kind of introspective, emotionally honest and deeply moving music Colvin created with the original Steady On.
Glide is very proud to premiere the official live video for “Shotgun Down The Avalanche” from Shawn Colvin – a courageous and stunning take on this 1989 classic. Colvin has helped redefine what it means to be a true acoustic singer-songwriter in the tradition of past greats while laying a layer of influence on modern artists like Angel Olsen and Jenny Lewis.
“Shotgun” came out of some beautiful music written by John Leventhal, and I wrote the lyrics, “says Colvin. “My way into the song was the word “avalanche” – I overheard someone use it on the street one day in reference to their friend who was overreacting to something. They said, “Don’t have an avalanche!”, and I thought, “Now there’s a fun word.”
Of course, the song is no fun at all, which, if you know my music, isn’t too surprising. The avalanche became a metaphor for a romance going down the tubes. And “riding shotgun” was just something that came out of my mouth, but it made sense in the end because the singer has no say in the demise of the relationship. It occurred to me to write a series of songs using natural disasters to describe break-ups, but I decided that seemed excessive. But, come to think of it, I DID write a song called “The Fall Of Rome.” It mentions The Titanic, too. Guess what it’s about? Anyway, I hope you enjoy this clip.”