Strangely melancholy for a song written in the key of C and rendered by a singer with a kaleidoscope of sparkling tones, “Riding Shotgun Down the Avalanche” — a song from Shawn Colvin’s 1989 breakout album, Steady On — remains to this day beautiful and bracing. This goes for many of Colvin’s compositions.
The live version I’ve featured gains interest as another remarkable contemporary singer and artist, Alison Krauss, joins Colvin in voice and fiddle.
Colvin was born in South Dakota, and moved around the Midwest a little growing up. Learning the guitar at age 10, she first formed a band at Southern Illinois State University. After many trials and tribulations — strained vocal chords, battles with addiction — she joined another band and moved to Austin, TX, and then to New York City, where she landed a job singing backup vocals on Suzanne Vega’s song, “Luka.”
Colvin toured with Vega for a year, and then landed a recording contract with Columbia Records.
Steady On was her debut album, and it’s fantastic from start to finish. The album earned a Grammy Award as the Best Contemporary Folk Album, and her next album (Fat City) earned another Grammy in the same category. After another album and a live collection, she released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, an album that broke through into the mainstream, with the song “Sunny Came Home” spending four weeks at #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, as well as winning a Grammy Award as Song of the Year. (A Few Small Repairs won a Grammy Award as Record of the Year.) Colvin has remained productive since, collaborating, releasing new music, and performing.
I was lucky enough to see Colvin perform at the Red Butte Garden at the University of Utah in 1991. The sound of her clarion and ethereal voice resonating in the clear mountain air as the sun set over Salt Lake Valley remains etched in my memory.
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