Shawn Colvin Biography

Shanna Colvin, 10 January 1956, Vermillion, South Dakota, USA. A singer-songwriter in the tradition of her teen idol Joni Mitchell, Colvin was of considerable age before she recorded her first songs. Backed by fellow guitarist and songwriting partner John Leventhal (later a collaborator with Marc Cohn), her debut pulled together arresting material with an understated approach that accentuated the confessional appeal of the songs.

Colvin was raised in the small Midwest towns of Vermillion, South Dakota, and Carbondale, Illinois. Having first picked up a guitar aged 10, she joined a hard rock band at college, then the Dixie Diesels, a country swing band from Austin, Texas. After a brief sojourn playing solo acoustic in San Francisco, she relocated to New York in 1980 and began working her way up the local folk pecking order. She also appeared in off-Broadway productions such as Pump Boys And Dinettes, Diamond Studs and Lie Of The Mind. Her reflections on this transitory period of her life (‘In each one of those places I made great friends - as far as I can remember’) are indicative of the alcohol- and drug-induced self-destruction at which her later songwriting hints.

When Colvin stopped drinking in 1983, she came by her first big break. A live tape was repeatedly aired by a local station and those songs attracted the attention of Columbia Records. Having honed a body of work over a decade, she was well placed to capitalize and her debut Steady On was awarded a Grammy in 1989 for Best Folk Album. It was co-produced by Suzanne Vega’s producer Steve Addaboo and Leventhal, and Vega herself guested, Colvin having contributed backing vocals to Vega’s ‘Luka’ and toured widely supporting her. Relieved at her commercial acclaim, Colvin made the most of her fame by working with some of her idols - joining Richard Thompson on tour (and later marrying his road manager) and recording a second album with Joni Mitchell’s husband, Larry Klein, at Mitchell’s home studio. Klein also joined her for selected touring performances, although many found the over-production worked against Colvin’s songs on Fat City.

After two strong collections it was disappointing that Colvin returned in 1994 with an album of meek cover versions. Evidently with one eye on the MTV profile to which she so frequently alluded in interviews, this set was only interesting on those songs without significant previous exposure - such as her bass player Rowland Salley’s ‘Killing The Blues’. Elsewhere critics balked at unnecessary fillers, such as Sting’s ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’.

After going through a divorce, Colvin had no shortage of philosophical emotions to turn into song. The excellent A Few Small Repairs proved to be more rock-orientated and provided Colvin with her commercial breakthrough, most notably with the US Top 10 hit ‘Sunny Came Home. The track was also the winner of the 1997 Grammy for Record of the Year. Apart from a seasonal album released in 1998, little was then heard of Colvin until she returned in the new millennium with her first album of original material in over five years, the excellent Whole New You.

Another lengthy hiatus enused, broken only by the release of a greatest hits set and a concert video, before Colvin resumed her recording career with the Nonesuch label. She made her debut for the company with the 2006 studio album These Four Walls.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.