Michelle Shocked has a tremendous talent. Thankfully, it is hard to categorize in a word or two. Her ability to stretch the boundaries between musical genres (folk, swing, rock, bluegrass) did not sit well with her one-time record company. After a handful of recordings, Shocked's label dropped her due to 'artistic incongruity' or some such nonsense. She hit them back with a lawsuit citing conditions of involuntary servitude. This disrupted her recordings being released for awhile. In the end we all lost, in a way, because such an episode disturbs the natural flow of a career, and interrupts the artistic process. Recordings become harder to find, the relationship between artist and audience is thwarted. Such is life, sometimes.
Short, Sharp, Shocked (1986) was the first of a trilogy of albums recorded for Mercury/Polygram. If Shocked were ever to fit into the quasi-structural mold of singer-songwriter, it would have been with this release. Her folk-pop roots shine in autobiographical songs like "Memories of East Texas" and "Anchorge," and in her effective interpretation of Jean Ritchie's classic "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore."
Shocked is a gifted songwriter. She can write overtly political material that will not hit you over the head with overbearing self-righteousness. She never loses sight of her senses of humor and irony. Note the gracefulness of her lyrics in "When I Grow Up," "Grafitti Limbo," or "Gladewater."
That Shocked never broke out into the into more mainstream success like Suzanne Vega or even Fiona Apple is perplexing. Such a dilemma poses the question: "Where do you go...when there ain't no justice?"