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An artist with different goals

Michelle Shocked - Don't Ask Don't Tell
(Mighty Sound)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 8, 2005
Michelle Shocked

Review by John Halverson

Michelle Shocked is erratic, unconventional and irrepressible.
Her story is the stuff of legend. She was given her name because her mother committed her and Shock had shock treatments. She lived on the street, survived a rape, traveled extensively, became a very sacrilegious evangelical, was discovered accidentally and has sung everything from punk to folk.
Shocked also won a major battle with her record company. So what does she do now that she controls her own material? She packages together three albums at once. One is in Spanish, one is Disney swing (if you can imagine) and one, a more traditional CD, Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Even in Don't Ask--which is all I'll write about here--she covers the style waterfront. From rock to near novelty to punk--and pulls most of them off. Her voice and story-telling is a menagerie of incarnations. "Early Morning Saturday," the opening cut, would be simplistic pop in the hands of another, but it's contagiously upbeat the way Shocked sings it. "Don't Ask" is a an odd cross between a child's song and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London." Strange song but one you want to hear again once you've gotten past the novelty flavor.
In "How You Play the Game," by far the best cut on "Don't Ask", she has stretched out, nearly scornful, lyric endings that echo early "Like a Rolling Stone" Dylan. Speaking of the past, there's also a harmonica riff by Doug Pettibone that impersonates Neil Young in his "After the Gold Rush" days.
And, damn, Shocked can write poetic lyrics:

"Soldiers play the game but they call it war Masochists play the game- they come back for more Kids play the game 'cause that's what the games are for Losers play the game but they get sore Ah yeah, losers get their bruises they get sore You've got to learn some day my friend That the means ain't justified by the ends."

The last cut, "hi skol" is all-out punk. It's as though she couldn't help but sing it--so she did.
And that's what makes her irresistible as both a persona and musician. No, Michelle will probably never produce a polished, chart-busting CD. She seems to have different goals. Maybe that's what makes her so willing to wing it and makes me so excited to listen to her because you never know what you'll hear next.

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