Unleashed and Loving It

You may remember Michelle Shocked from the late ’80s, when her
singles “Anchorage,” “If Love Was a Train” (both from the album
Short Sharp Shocked), and “On the Greener Side” (from Captain
Swing) inched up the pop charts. Or maybe you know her from her
more recent appearances at Los Angeles anti-war events, or from the
less commercially successful but no less virtuosic independent
albums she’s produced since Captain Swing. Or maybe you’ve never
heard of her at all. And that would truly be too bad for you,
because this Texas native can kick some artistic ass.

Shocked is known for her adventurous and unflinching approach to
folk music and to politics, making her a kind of Western version of
New York folkie Ani DiFranco. But even with a career built on
following her artistic whims at all costs, Shocked has never been
in as fine a form as she is now. The 43-year-old singer has just
released Got No Strings, an album of Western swing covers of Disney
favorites; Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a collection of songs about her
recent divorce from her husband of 13 years; and Mexican Standoff,
an album that’s half Latin-inspired and half traditional blues.
Yes, she released them all at the same time (under the title
Threesome). Yes, she recorded them all at the same time. And no,
she isn’t crazy.

Michelle Shocked is simply unleashed.

First, there’s the new do-it-yourself climate in music that
makes anything a singer/songwriter imagines a possibility. (Also
like Righteous Babe DiFranco, Shocked established her own music
label, Mighty Sound, in 2002.) Then there’s the emotional and
creative release that came from finally ending a 13-year marriage
that just wasn’t working. And finally, there’s her relationship
with fine art painter David Willardson.

“Oh, girl, it’s a mad, mad love affair,” she said. The
combination has been lighter fluid on Michelle Shocked’s already
raging creative fires. She wrote Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell all about
her divorce. Got No Strings was born when Shocked wanted to make
music she could play while Willardson — a former Disney illustrator
who now makes Disney-inspired pop art — creates his live paintings.
And she did this all while working on Mexican Standoff, an idea
which came to her when she realized how much Latin culture she was
picking up by osmosis, simply by living in Los Angeles. “I realized
I know more Spanish than I think I do,” said Shocked, who has a
genuine appreciation for Latin culture. But she doesn’t pretend to
completely understand it, so a serious Latin record wouldn’t have
made sense. Instead, it’s “a tribute, but not a reverent tribute,”
says the admittedly goofy singer, hence the blues numbers that
arrive halfway through the album. The process has been hugely
fulfilling for Shocked, though she’s not sure she’ll produce
another musical trifecta anytime soon. “It was like having
triplets. Okay, it’s nice, now you’ve got the three little babies,”
she explained. “But you wouldn’t want to go through it again.”

You can see (or hear) Shocked’s newborns at Borders on February
18, where she’ll perform songs from Threesome and her back catalog
while Willardson creates one of his pop art pieces. “It’s not real
pretentious, but it’s a lot of fun,” she says of the


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