All Fall Down
Released in tandem with her new memoir, Diamond in the Rough, Shawn Colvin’s All Fall Down is the Austin-based singer-songwriter’s first studio album since 2006’s These Four Walls. Although she’s stayed on the industry radar (her 2009 release Shawn Colvin Live was nominated for a Best Contemporary Folk Grammy), the mainstream success that the South Dakota-native tasted with 1996’s platinum-selling A Few Small Repairs has tapered off considerably over the ensuing 20 years. But as the songs on All Fall Down prove, her topical sensibilities and masterful lyrical abilities (equal parts eloquent and intelligent) are still very much in tact. Produced by Americana darling Buddy Miller and recorded at his home studio in Nashville, the album is a rootsy hodgepodge of traditional strains, featuring dynamic, polished arrangements that range from Telecaster-driven country to melodic acoustic picking accompanied by Stuart Duncan’s soaring fiddle and even the occasional, atmospherically appropriate appearance of forlorn horns. Friends Emmylou Harris, Jakob Dylan, and Allison Krauss are also called in for vocal support. A melancholy mood pervades throughout the mellow, often poetic set, with recurring themes of homelessness, despair, and dissolution dominating Colvin’s thoughts, most notably on the standout track, “American Jerusalem,” a socially conscious tale of warning reminiscent of Steve Earle (or even Pete Seeger). But songs like the title track and “I Don’t Know You” offer just the right amount of pop sparkle (melodically if not quite lyrically) to help Colvin’s contemporary folk maintain crossover appeal. — COURTNEY SUDBRINK