The process of digitalizing a life time of music keeps bringing rediscoveries. One of the recent rediscoveries is Michelle Shocked, who is not only still recording, but has also managed to regain control of her own music.
Shocked first became known in folk circles in the late 1980s with The Texas Campfire Tapes. The album was based on some casual recordings by a British music producer who misrepresented himself as a journalist, and produced an edited version of her music that, due to faltering batteries, recorded some of her music too slowly and made her voice sound higher than it was. Nobody has quite said so in as many words, but, from what is carefully not said, the impression is that the album was either released without her permission, or with permissions obtained under questionable pretenses.
The album launched her career, but its promotion also created an image of Shocked as a naive genius, despite the diverse influences, intelligent lyrics, and wry humor of many of the songs themselves. Considering the many changes of direction in her musical career, this image must have handicapped her career, with her record company trying to pigeon-hole her into a category that didn’t fit.
I didn’t know about all this back story when I bought a cassette of The Texas Campfire Tapes years ago. But, as the story surfaced, I felt more than a little guilty. I mean, the songs were worth hearing, yet wasn’t listening to the album a sign of disrespect to Shocked? Perhaps this guilt was one reason that, over the years, I stopped listening to Shocked, although I was vaguely aware that she had released other albums, and her second album, Short Sharp Shocked, was briefly one of my favorites.
Now, after a couple of decades of fighting with record companies, and Shocked has control over her own material again. A few years ago, she re-released her first album under the title of the Texas Campfire Takes, which I hurried to purchase as a download from her web site.
The Takes includes the original material played at the proper speed, as well as the raw material, complete with introductions and a few new songs, from which her first album was edited. In some cases, the edited versions of the songs sound more professional – or, at least, better produced – but the raw material, despite being uneven, is often more satisfying, and provides more context.
But the important thing is that now we can hear the music the way that Shocked prefers it. The result is a small victory of an artist over a recording company, and I’ve celebrated it in the only possibly way – by discarding the old cassette and replacing it in the music collection with the new download.
And somewhere deep inside, an old guilt seems to have quietly died. I’ve started listening to Shocked again, and I am slowly ordering her backlist an album or two at a time.