When Michelle Shocked burst on the scene now nearly 20 years ago, her earnest narrative folk songs spoke of personal struggles, longing, love, and other universal themes. While she's since explored various world music styles, gospel, rock, and now folk-soul-rock, her songs have retained a certain honest clarity about life's greater truths. Though Soul of My Soul is full of great songs, it seems a bit more geared to Bush-era policies and issues and, as such, comes across as a bit less than timely.
Protest Songs...A Little Too Late?
This record would probably have resonated quite a bit more a year or two ago. Songs like "Ballad of the Battle of the Ballot and the Bullet Part I: Ugly Americans" would have seemed timely and appropriate for the gathering momentum behind the Obama campaign or the opposition to the war. Now, however, it just feels out of date and a little less true.
Shocked can't be blamed for how long it sometimes takes to put a record out, but the untimeliness makes this disc less likely to be spun and spun again on many stereos. While it's always important to question authority and hold our leaders accountable, more folks seem to be inclined to work together and support our current administration than to consider each other "Ugly Americans." As a result, nearly half the record feels lost in another time, commenting on another kind of world.
Untimely protest songs aside, Soul of My Soul
still has a lot to offer. The almost-tango rock-out vibe of "Waterproof" is provocative and haunting. Album-opener "Love's Song" is another outstanding rock-out soul-tinged number that sounds like it was tailor made for summer road trip mix CDs.
Creative percussion and distorted guitars on "Paperboy" call to mind classic Blondie—a bit of a departure from Shocked's earlier work like "Anchored Down in Anchorage," etc. As the disc proceeds from there, the guitars become more distorted and more prominent, pulling it further from a traditional folk or even folk-rock rooting, before landing back in a swirling sentimentality on one of the disc's greatest highlights, "Pompeii."
It's "True Story," though, that resonates the most. Seeing Shocked alone on acoustic guitar singing about a complicated love affair, it's exactly what she does best, pulling her voice from a whisper to a wail and back again.
The Bottom Line
Soul of My Soul is a complicated disc full of struggling emotions, which is what Shocked has always been supremely good at communicating. Served up with a vast array of musical styles, from gospel to rock and soul, the disc rocks harder than may be comfortable for some long-time Michelle Shocked fans. The protest songs are well-written but un-current in their grasp of current events. Nonetheless, Shocked and her band deliver tightly intuitive performances, defying specific genres and remaining true to the songs themselves.