Colvin and Earle deliver a magical night of music in Concord, previewing heart-rendering tracks from their new album - includes video!

Friday June 24 2016

The annual concert series at the Umbrella Community Arts Center in Concord, MA is a way to give and grow exposure for the city’s community arts programs. Occupying the space of a former mid-century high school, over 50 converted classrooms now serve as artist studios along with a large visual arts gallery, performance spaces, and a 400-seat concert hall. The Umbrella’s mission is to encourage and inspire people of any age to get involved with the arts, be it music lessons, dance, or the applied arts.

“If you have a spark of creativity – share it,” expressed an Umbrella Board Member when introducing tonight’s performers, and with those words to set the tone, world-class singer/songwriters Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle took the stage to do just that. Each armed with an acoustic guitar, the pair took their place side-by-side on a modestly-lit stage, lined simply with several guitars in the background, and led off with a room-warming cover of The Every Brothers classic “Wake Up Little Suzie.” The tune would pave the way for an evening of dusty old covers, fresh-and-new collaborations, and hand-picked songs from their respective Grammy-winning back catalogs.

Strummin’ strong and singin’ loud, with voices of equal-yet-distinctive power, the pair were natural and authentic on stage; coming across like two road-weary pals, recently reunited and swapping stories of love, loss, pain and discovery. Describing the process of cherry-picking the few covers that appear on their new album, simply titled Colvin & Earle, “the covers were fantasy camp, kinda…” says Steve, before launching into the Emmylou Harris gem ‘Raise The Dead’ with that biting refrain “…I’ll never get out of your love alive.” In a performance that resonates, reverberates, heart aches, swells with Earle huffing into the harmonica with all his might. Being embarrassingly unfamiliar with the original, I swiftly made a note to track it down as soon as I get home.

Colvin too takes her turn sounding less like a clear-eyed country gal and more like world-weary Marianne Faithful, as they down-shift into the Rolling Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’ dropping it into a lower key than the one heard on the record.  Slower and darker in tone, at first I wonder why they are taking it down, then I figure it out: it’s so the audience is left to hang on each word, and actually re-hear a song that most already know by memory.  “Good…bye…ru…by…tues…day” is stretched out and feels …heavy. But they don’t let us dwell in that dark place for long, swiftly shifting gears to the upbeat, loosey-goosey ‘Tobacco Road’ which gets the audience sitting upright, energized and engaged. Nearly every face in the house is beaming, happy to be there and taking it all in.

“Me and Steve are gonna squirrel back into our respective catalogs for a bit” Colvin tells the crowd before launching into her gems “Diamond In the Rough” and “Sunny Came Home,” the latter of which Colvin calls “the ultimate break-up song” before Earle chimes in “It’s a fucking murder ballad!” -something I never picked up on whenever I hear it at the supermarket!

Earle pulls out classics “Copperhead Road” and “Galway Girl” before duetting with Colvin on ‘Someday’ – originally written and recorded by Earle but covered by Colvin – but it’s all about the story before the song…as Steve tells us

“[Back in the ‘90s] I dropped off the face of the earth, almost literally…it would be four and a half years before making a record again. And during that time I was in a very, very dark place… very little light reached where I was. In fact the only two tiny points of light I remember was hearing somewhere, like an echo, like a rumor, that Emmylou Harris had recorded ‘Guitar Town’ and Shawn Colvin had recorded ‘Someday’…”

It’s the high point of the night – with the two delivering the tune with guts, grit and honesty.

But they didn’t forget about the new originals they penned together either, with highlights including ‘You’re Right (I’m Wrong)’ which Steve described as “…a fucked up kind of love song.” And the calypso-tinged ‘The Way That We Do’ is strummed and sung beautifully by both, with Earle taking one verse and Colvin taking the next. It’s Shawn’s lines that hit me over the head.

“Travelled alone, down to the bone, just passing through – walking on wire, feet to the fire, the way that I do. Go where I’m led, dance with the dead, without any shoes – stumble on home, you leave the light on, the way that you do. Nobody listens to a lie like you – nobody tries, nobody cries the way that we do.”

Winding down the evening, they dedicate the poignant ‘You’re Still Gone’ to legendary Texas songwriter/guitarist Guy Clark, who we lost back in May. A friend to both, the pair explain that even though some interpret it as a love song, it’s actually about grieving and death. Earle had the chorus written prior to coming to Colvin, who had a couple verses given to her from Buddy Miller’s wife Julie. Colvin tells us she’s been keeping the lyrics stashed in a drawer, waiting for the right moment to use them. The lines found their way into this song, and what a perfect song to sail off into the night.

“…I’m still all alone / And it chills me to the bone
But I keep going on / And you’re still gone.
But I’ll never be the same / There’s no one I can blame
But I still call out your name / And you’re still gone…”

So what do I think of this night, this event, this strange, provocative Concord art space I’ve never been to, and the folks, the whole shebang? All around, it couldn’t have been done up nicer if they tried. The crowd was along for the ride and yelped and cheered at every twist and turn, and hung on each strum and harmony and word.

What won me over? The lyrics, the songs, and the strength inside them, delivered with the authority and authenticity of Colvin and Earle. Good songwriting, like good bar-b-que and cold beer, satisfies the body and soul, and makes you want to keep on comin’ back for more.

The event also serves as a testament to why we go to live shows in the first place, when all too often the complacency of sitting on the couch wins the evening war. Sure, you can listen to a record, but you don’t really hear it until the artists deliver it to you. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, what the songs order will be, what other mishaps will be sprinkled in, what stories will be told in-between the pauses, what your body will feel like as the acoustics resonate in the air. Thinking about this, and thinking about the mission of the Umbrella Center, make it clear to me that I was in the right place, in the right moment, and feeling quite fortunate to be here.  Collaborations like this don’t come along every day, and it’s a wonder that it hasn’t happened more.  I’m looking forward to their next collaboration, and to the next performance under the Umbrella