Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Sept. 15, 2006
These Four Walls (Nonesuch)
Five years between albums is not unusual for Shawn Colvin. Yet while These Four Walls finds her on a new, good-match label, nothing much else has changed. Austin's premier pop diva teams up once again with longtime collaborator John Leventhal (Mr. Rosanne Cash), and besides producing, he's a virtual one-man band, playing bass, Dobro, guitar, mandolin, percussion, pedal steel, keyboards, and being co-writer on 10 of the album's 13 tracks. Reflecting her past work, Colvin skirts obvious meanings, but the bulk of These Four Walls seems to ruminate on middle age, which matches up with the local singer-songwriter having turned 50 earlier this year. The album's first five tracks are terrific, opener "Fill Me Up" an inordinately sunny bit of passive-aggressiveness. The gently lilting title track submits to living day by day, while the strident "Tuff Kid" flirts with country rock. The appropriately dreamlike "Summer Dress" and scintillating "Cinnamon Road," with vocal appearances by Austin's other contemporary folk queen, Patty Griffin, as well as Marc Cohn, are even better. Sadly, the disc then wades into self-consciousness with cookie-cutter tunes like "I'm Gone," "So Good to See You," and a pair of covers, Paul Westerberg's "Even Here We Are" and the Bee Gees' "Words," which seem more like filler than an attempt to break down barriers.