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  Michelle Shocked
Michelle Shocked An awfully authoritative-sounding internet rock guide insists that Michelle Shocked’s life must be fiction. But if it seems like an incredible road movie, a tall tale, a legend, it’s no mystery. Michelle Shocked set forth on her journey ever so young but ever so determined to jump past, jump through, jump beyond any boundary that held her back. To leap across la frontera, to get to somewhere -- anywhere -- better than here.

She played her first show, her first show ever, at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. She’d planned on activism, not a music career. She hadn’t been making demos and playing showcases; she’d hung around New York’s Cottonwood Cafe and the Speakeasy where the singer-songwriters played but she would no more have thought of performing there than she would have at CBGB’s Hardcore Matinee where she stood in line every Sunday afternoon. But over the next eighteen months, working for a manager who was also her booking agent, a booking agent who was also her record label owner, a record label that was shopping her around to major labels, and licensing her record around the world, and booking her gigs and collecting her commissions and her royalties and her advances, and shipping her and her guitar C.O.D., it was as if she’d fallen into a new job at the circus getting shot out of a cannon. Flying, in mid-air, flashes of cheering faces, no information about where she was going and even less about where she would be landing. To this day, she has no idea how many shows she did. “I can remember saying that if you keep working me this hard, I’m going to be burnt out in a year,” she says. The response? “So you’ll be burnt out in a year.”

She had a plan. Actually, she had a whole bunch of plans. She risked signing with a major label for the sake of attempting to change the system from within. Following her own political ideals, considering the enslaved fate of Third World debtor nations -- a dozen years before most of us learned the term “W.T.O.” -- she turned down their advance for the sake of owning her own work. And she had another plan too. She had organized her songs into a trilogy that was meant to show where she had come from -- not just show the listener, but remind herself as well. After her first taste of circus-cannon celebrity, she was leaving something more substantial than breadcrumbs behind her to mark her way back home: a trail of brilliant songs.

For the first part of her trilogy, to be called “Short Sharp Shocked” and meant to display her singer-songwriter side, she chose another singer-songwriter, a labelmate, to produce: rapper Kurtis Blow. The label’s response was, quote: “Huh?” Instead, they asked her to meet with blues guitar-playing producer Pete Anderson, whose commercial success with Dwight Yoakum was more convincing to Mercury; the album they made together became an instant classic, so much so that when they returned to the studio a year or two later, most everyone who didn’t know her presumed they would automatically set forth on “Short Sharp Shocked II.”

“Captain Swing” was a lot of things, but it wasn’t “Short Sharp Shocked II.” Ten years ahead of her time, or else forty years behind, the album took advantage of her Texas roots to pursue her notion that swing was more than just a style, that the mere act of music swinging shot past style and spun the world on a whole new axis. It was a bold stroke from a brave new artist -- almost no one had used horns on a major label pop album in years -- and if it shook some folks up, it helped loosen up even more. It served notice that Michelle Shocked had songwriting skills not seen since the days of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, it served notice that she was blazing her own path, and it laid down the law: Expect the unexpected.

Deep Natural
CD $19.99 catalog# MS-1001
Deep Natural
Mercury Poise: 1988-1995
CD $27.99 catalog# mscd-102
Mercury Poise: 1988-1995
Short Sharp Shocked
CD $15.99 catalog# 820692100426

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