Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Mimsy Review: Short Sharp Shocked

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, March 4, 2006

Hey girl what’s it like to be in New York? New York City, imagine that. Tell me, what’s it like to be a skateboard punk rocker? Leroy says “send a picture”. Leroy says, “hello”. Leroy says, “ah keep on rockin’ girl”. Yeah. keep on rockin’.

A great album of vaguely jazzy, vaguely folky music from Michelle Shocked. Short Sharp Shocked includes one of her most popular songs, Anchorage (Anchorage Alaska), and three of the four songs in her East Texas Trilogy.

RecommendationPurchase Now!
ArtistMichelle Shocked
Length36 minutes
Album Rating9
1. When I Grow Up 3:34
2. Hello Hopeville 2:55
3. Memories of East Texas 3:35
4. (Making the Run to) Gladewater 3:05
5. Graffiti Limbo 3:40
6. If Love Was a Train 4:07
7. Anchorage 3:24
8. The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore 4:10
9. V. F. D. 2:49
10. Black Widow 2:44
11. Fog Town 2:25

I first heard Michelle Shocked back in 1984 or 1985 on a television show while going to college. I’d tuned in to the very end of the show, and I remember the song she played: “Anchorage, Alaska”. It was the last song she played that show, and neither her name nor the song’s title was mentioned when the song was over. But I remembered that song until I was able to connect the song’s lyrics with a title and an artist. There was no Google back then to do quick lyric searches. It took ten years, and I was on the other side of the country when I finally found out who that was.

Since then, I’ve tried to get as much Michelle Shocked as possible. She is, in my opinion, one of the best songwriters of our time. Songs such as “Neck Tie,” “Anchorage,”, “Come a Long Way,” and “Memories of East Texas” are among the best and freshest music of the modern age. When the chaff falls from the wheat decades from now, Michelle Shocked will remain.

She didn’t even know she was making her first album. Some guy from Britain recorded her at Kerrville, Texas, on his Sony Walkman, brought it back to his “independent” record label, and released it as “The Texas Campfire Tapes”. She charted without even knowing she had a record out. In one sense she was lucky: because she didn’t come through the system, she hadn’t been forced to sell out to the system for her success; when she signed on with a major label, she didn’t sell her rights. She recognizes that gift: “I’m one of the few that comes from this vantage point: I never tried to get a record deal.”

Short Sharp Shocked” was her first album with Mercury, and it is full of songs as beautiful as “Anchorage”. Her semi-autobiographical “Memories of East Texas”, and her song about the death of the mining industry, “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” are incredible; “Memories” can bring tears when I’m in the right mood. “Memories of East Texas” is part of what she calls her “East Texas Trilogy”. Two other songs from the trilogy, also on this album, are “Making the Run to Gladewater” and “V.F.D.”, though more technically only one of them is part of the trilogy.

The songs range to the overtly political also, as well as the less overtly. “Graffiti Limbo” is about the “young black graffiti artist” Michael Stewart, strangled to death by transit cops in New York City; there was an investigation, but it didn’t go very far: “the coronor lost the evidence, you see”. Her “Gladewater” part of the “East Texas Trilogy” is about dry counties and the often hypocritical stance of overly-moral people. In Texas (as in other bible-belt states) counties sometimes vote to be dry. What this ends up meaning is that people in the moral county end up driving really fast late at night and drunk to get to the immoral county to buy some alcohol before the liquor stores close.

“Hello, Hopeville” is an intriguing series of vignettes at a train station. Or something like that—as much as I enjoy the song, I still don’t quite get it. Perhaps I need a vacation.

There is no bad song on this album. Vaguely jazzy, vaguely folky, a little bit of pop and a little rock and roll. In the end, you just have to listen to the music. Michelle Shocked sounds like no one more than Michelle Shocked. This is the first commercial venture from a consistently great musician, and I highly recommend it.

Short Sharp Shocked

Michelle Shocked

Recommendation: Purchase Now!

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