MICHELLE SHOCKED -- Mercury Poise: 1988-1995 (Mercury)

The first time I heard Michelle Shocked was in the wee hours of the morning when MTV played the video for "When I Grow Up"--a song from her major label debut, Short Sharp Shocked. The song immediately caught my attention. This was not your typical MTV fare by any stretch of the imagination. It featured an unusual bass line that made you sit up and take notice, layered over assorted jungle noises and blaring horns on the chorus. Short Sharp Shocked was a mixture of folk and blues-based songs. It wasn't exactly a commercial success, but it had several interesting tracks. Along with "When I Grow Up", highlights included the bluesy "If Love was a Train" and "Anchorage". All three tunes are on the new CD.

On her follow-up album, Captain Swing, Shocked ventured into a jazzier sound. Several of the songs featured a horn section and although the songs were generally less than three minutes long, it allowed her to try something different. For me, this album was her finest moment. Captain Swing included the calypso hit "On the Greener Side" and garnered her considerable airplay. However, two of the album's best tracks didn't make the cut on Mercury Poise. The campy "God is a Real Estate Developer" and the blistering blues track "Sleep Keeps Me Awake" both should have been included.

Shocked's third album, Arkansas Traveler, was a big disappointment after Captain Swing. Aside from the excellent "Come a Long Way" (included here), the country/bluegrass tunes on the CD were pretty forgettable. As far as new music goes, the next few years for Shocked have been sparse. She contributed a track to the first Sweet Relief project and recorded a self-produced CD called Kind Hearted Woman. Until getting picked up by her new label, this CD was only available at her concerts. Mercury Poise includes one track from Kind Hearted Woman, "Stillborn". Unfortunately, Shocked's vocal on the song is little more than an annoyance and doesn't represent the album fairly. Then again, maybe that was the intention.

Shocked apparently ran into problems with Mercury after Arkansas Traveler and was subsequently released from her contract - hence the 'new' CD. On a more positive note, she retained the rights to all her material. Regardless of the intent, Mercury Poise is an excellent primer for someone wanting to explore Shocked's diverse musical talents.

© 1996 Steve Marshall