I’m happy for Michelle Shocked that she’s so in love with Jesus Christ. If only half the tsuris in her bio is genuine, it’s hard to see how else she could get out of bed: raised alternately by a devout Mormon and a lost hippie; involuntary psychiatric inpatient (hence the name); squatter whose hit debut was released without her permission; bootleggee who negotiated a record deal so good her label refused to honor it; white girl who litigated the Thirteenth Amendment to get out of said great deal; queer signifier who’s been PNG among the LGBT since dissing Two Nice Girls at SXSW; career feminist who only recently escaped a repressive marriage. She was even, briefly, a Mekon.
I’m also happy for her that she has her masters back and her own label to release them. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea for the first new material to be three CDs, but it’s her money. Threesome includes a breakup record, a country-swing set of Disney songs, and a Tex-Mex roadhouse hodgepodge. (Next installment: one disc each of “gospel/electronica, New Orleans—style jazz, and a tribute to Memphis Minnie.”) And I’m happy for her that she’s in love with a former Disney illustrator, although maybe a musician would have steered her toward more nuggets like “The Spectrum Song” (from the Sunday TV show) and away from the Main Street favorites (“Spoonful of Sugar”? “Wish Upon a Star”? I could go on).
So maybe she’s better off, but all that agape and eros, when filtered through her trademark genre-hopping, undercuts the breakup record. The opening “Early Morning Sunshine,” about waking up crusty and intertwined, is cloyingly chipper, like Norah Jones without the sex. Right away we’re in a guessing game: the next one could be young Tom Petty without the cocaine; the third, John Trudell without the genocide. The best, “Evacuation Route,” is Lucinda Williams without the unimpeded view of the abyss: simple, direct tune, clever metaphor, biographical detail with geographic specificity.
The third disc is the most natural, a grab bag of riffs and one-liners. “Have you ever seen a match burn twice?” the catchiest asks. “Weasel Be Poppin’ ” ends with a line dance lesson: “You don’t know how to do the electric slide? It’s too late; I can’t help you white people.” A song recalling “Kissin’ on the mouth of the Mississippi” wraps up with a delicious throwaway reference to Method Man calling out Missy Elliott (“M—I—crooked letter—crooked letter—I . . . “). I’m happy for her that she thought of it.