Listen to this song by country-folk maven Shawn Colvin. It’s “These Four Walls” as taken from her 2006 album of the same name, These Four Walls .
The middle of the 1980s was mostly about producing hits off of the back of a certain type of digitalized sound, rather than solid material. At the end of the decade, even mainstream audiences were looking for songwriters of substance, shifting the focus away from how records sounded, and more about what was actually being said. As such, there was something of a demand for singer-songwriters again, which helped along the careers of people like Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman, both of whom had monster hits around that time in “Luka” and “Fast Car” respectively.
And among this new crop of songwriters was Shawn Colvin, who had done the rounds in rock bands well before this new folk boom that supported the possibilities for a solo career. For me personally, a lot of the material out of this trend had blanded out by the 90s. And worst of all, the “girl-with-guitar” vibe became something of a cliche, as female singer-songwriters were becoming ghettoized, rather patronizingly, as a sort of subgenre.
This is a shame, since all the while Shawn Colvin was building upon her already considerable chops as a songwriter, coupled with her writing partner Jon Leventhal. By 2006, and with the release of this song and the album off of which it comes, her material shines, as does her voice which is a sultry, smoky instrument that evokes experience out of innocence. This quality is certainly on display here on this song of isolation and regret.
I think some of the best singer-songwriters are the ones that are able to climb inside their material, not only putting words and music together, but able to reveal the emotional core that comes out of the process. I don’t think as many singer-songwriters are able to do this as well as they think. But Shawn Colvin, particularly on this song, proves herself to be in a league of her own.
For more information about Shawn Colvin, check out the the Shawn Colvin MySpace page.