Good songs, poor decisions
Reviewed June 2009
Soul of My Soul
By Michelle Shocked
Mighty Sound: 2009
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Michelle Shocked is a good vocalist and songwriter, who has her own label and full artistic control of her eclectic sound. On her new disc, "Soul of My Soul," the singer-songwriter delivers mixed results as her talents collide with some questionable decisions.
Shocked is a genre-jumper who writes in many styles, including folk, hard rock, soul and straight pop, and has little trouble on this disc's ten tunes coming up with memorable and catchy hooks. If there is a problem with this, it is that there isn't a musical identity; the disc sounds like a collection of songs by several different singers. And some of these singers sound like ones we have heard before, especially in the '70s and '80s.
A first example is the opener, "Love's Song," a rocker that works well enough while evoking the Pretenders and Chrissie Hynde more than casually. Hynde is very good at hard rock, but Shocked is the better vocalist, and on this one she is going through the motions. "Other People" and "Ballad of the Battle of the Ballot and the Bullet: Part I" are politically themed folk-rock protest songs that belong on a 2005 album and should have been scrapped on a May 2009 release. "People" might have worked with lyrics as a breakup ballad instead of a disgust piece about the American people. The "Ballad" rant about a war president and ugly Americans is a few years too late to have any relevance.
With "Liquid Prayer," Shocked sings an R&B song, with a full arrangement, gospel-inspired lyrics, backup singers, and carries it off effectively; she has a great set of pipes when she chooses to use them. She channels Blondie on consecutive cuts with "Paperboy" and the driving "Giantkiller." The former is a wink about a neighborhood stud, while the latter sounds like an outtake from an album like "Parallel Lines," with overdriven guitars, echoed vocals and power chords. These songs aren't really bad, but sound dated.
"Heart to Heart" is the highlight, a catchy pop tune with Shocked using her voice to good effect and without a political message. As elsewhere, the backing musicianship is excellent. "Pompei" is an interesting allegory as she uses a jazzy rhythm to convey a story that compares American political society to the city that was buried by a volcano.
"Heart of My Heart" shows that Michelle Shocked can write good songs, and there are several here. The decision to include some outdated political manifestos and derivative rockers does dilute the overall effect, and will have the listener hitting the skip button.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.