March 2005

Shawn Colvin - Polaroids: A Video Collection
Columbia Music Video CXVD 54300
Released: 2004
Format: DVD

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***
Image Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

I have listened many times and still find myself at odds with those who consider Shawn Colvin an excellent singer-songwriter. For the most positive impression of her greatest-hits DVD, Polaroids: A Video Collection, skip to Sessions at West 54th and Austin City Limits. Eight of those nine tracks present a talented folk singer on stage with her Martin guitar and backup musicians. Even then, something isn’t quite right. I think it is the lyrics, whose incoherence compels Colvin to sing and act in ways that seem detached.

Rather than complement the songs, the videos distance the listener from them. Colvin is either mouthing the words or singing a take we’re not hearing, and the TV imperative of changing scene every few seconds is followed. That may hold some viewers till toothpaste or fast-food time when conveying a coherent plot, but songs have traditionally stood on their own, so visuals must do more than merely exist to justify themselves.

Joni Mitchell’s influence on Colvin is obvious before Colvin mentions it in the interview that is track 14. But Mitchell’s masterpiece-creating ability is not transferable, and Colvin is not the first to wind up in a pile of jazz chords and heavy-but-meaningless lyrics after colliding with her. It is a shame Columbia pushes it on youngsters. By finding her true voice as a songwriter, Colvin might get herself out of foggy production effects and vocal affectations and use that Martin as something more than a prop. Then her album covers might not have to show her as a teenage-boy’s sexual fantasy.