El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Michelle Shocked
THREESOME (Limited Edition)
Containing the albums: Don't Ask Don't Tell, Got No Strings and Mexican Standoff
Mighty Sound

Michelle Shocked returns with three new albums, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Got No Strings and Mexican Standoff, in an effort that should put her in the running for the title, “Hardest Working Woman in Show Business.” These albums, which are released on Shocked’s label Mighty Sound, can be bought individually or together in a collector’s set entitled Threesome.

All the albums have links to the past. Don't Ask Don't Tell has songs that deal with Shocked’s divorce. Her newfound freedom is evident in her refusal to be restricted by genre. Mexican Standoff finds Shocked exploring the music of her Spanish/East Texas roots. Got No Strings has a Jungian element since everyone who has grown up since the ‘40s, especially in America, has had the films of Walt Disney and their accompanying music as an integral part of their childhood and psyche. I couldn’t tell if the trio was supposed to be heard in a particular order, so I listened to them in the order they were recorded.

Got No Strings, is a collection of Disney songs that Shocked and her talented band perform as if they were western swing numbers. The songs all sound natural played this way. Her voice is very evocative and shows a strong affinity to this style of music. It’s a very short album, clocking in at 35 minutes and it leaves the listener wanting more. Pinocchio is the most represented with three of the ten tracks. Shocked also offers two obscure songs for serious Disneyphiles: “On The Front Porch” from the ’63 film Summer Magic and “Spectrum” from the television series, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. This album is perfect for children of all ages.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a diverse album that showcases Shocked’s many interests and her songwriting skills. It starts with the laid back jazz of “Early Morning Saturday.” “How You Play The Game” is a country rocker reminiscent of a young Bonnie Raitt. “Don’t Ask” is Shocked’s talking bayou blues where she regales the listener about the time the midnight owl turned her into a rabbit. She heads west and offers up some Texas boogie on “Used Car Lot” that will make her fellow Texans ZZ Top proud. “Hardly Gonna Miss Him” recalls the jazz of the opening track as she succinctly explains the song title with the line, “He don’t like to laugh/I don’t like to cry.” The accordion and marimbas on “Evacuation Route” foreshadows the Latin sounds of Mexican Standoff. On “Goodbye,” Shocked closes her variety show as if she were a lounge singer, humorously identifying her supporting cast. Don’t miss the hidden track, a blazing rocker that brings to mind The Pretenders back when The Pretenders made blazing rockers. It’s so good that it makes you wish for an entire album of rock songs. If you can handle your music mixed and varied like a sampler platter, then you’ll enjoy this album.

Mexican Standoff is an album that is half Latin ballads and half Austin blues. Steve Berlin of Los Lobos performed the basic production of the Latin tracks, which are augmented by traditional instruments such as a baja sexto, an accordion, a trumpet, even the occasional “Ai-yi-yi” shouted in the background. “Lonely Planet” is a touching ballad sung in Spanish. “La Cantina El Gato Negro” is a funny song where a character starts speaking Spanish until she learns she knows more English than the man knows Spanish. “Wanted Man” is a traditional tale of a desperado on the run. “Picoesque” tells a story of her adopted home Los Angeles with an uplifting gospel-tinged chorus, complete with a piano and organ.

Shocked then moves on to the blues for the rest of the album. The guitar sounds fantastic on “Mouth of the Mississippi” as the siren of the mighty river, calling the narrator back home. Shocked belts out the vocals on “180 Proof” in a way that makes the song sound like it really strikes home for her. The band then delivers some funky rhythm and blues on “Weasel Be Poppin’.”

I enjoyed all three albums a lot, but then I have an appreciation for all the genres Shocked covered. It’s refreshing to hear what an artist can create when she doesn’t have to limit herself by making what the marketing people think made the last album sell well.

I recommend the Threesome collection; although I do have one gripe about how very poor the packaging is. The discs always come loose when it is laid flat. While there’s a savings by buying Threesome, I would have paid a little more for a something that secured the discs better.