'We All Have Something To Say': Shawn Colvin On The Value Of Cover Songs Colvin released a covers album early in her career, which she says had a profound effect on her confidence as a songwriter. Twenty-one years later, she's trying it again.

'We All Have Something To Say': Shawn Colvin On The Value Of Cover Songs

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Shawn Colvin is best known for her original songs, but she also likes to reimagine the works of other artists. In 1994, she released "Cover Girl," with songs by Bob Dylan, the Talking Heads, Tom Waits and others. Twenty-one years later, Shawn Colvin has decided it's time for another collection of covers.


SHAWN COLVIN: (Singing) It's Saturday night. You're all dressed up in blue. I been watching you while. Maybe you been watching me, too.

SIMON: That's Shawn Colvin's rendition of "Tougher Than The Rest," the Bruce Springsteen song. It is the opening track of her new album, called simply "Uncovered." Shawn Colvin now joins us from New York. Thanks very much for being with us.

COLVIN: You're so welcome. Thank you.

SIMON: If you were doing this cover version 21 years ago, you think it might've been different?

COLVIN: Yeah, I do. I do. Given the title, there's a - it's mistaken perhaps for a song that's got a lot of bravado in it. And I don't see it that way. I see it as a world weariness that he's conveying and sort of a quiet confidence, you know, born of struggle and experience and heartbreak. And 20 years ago, I didn't have as much of that as I do now, for better or for worse. So, yeah, I think I could - I probably have done a better job right now than I could've done 20 years ago on it.


COLVIN: (Singing) 'Cause if you're looking for love, honey, I'm tougher than the rest. If you're rough and ready for love, honey, I'm tougher than the rest.

SIMON: What's the satisfaction you get in interpreting somebody else's song that's different from what you put over with your own composition?

COLVIN: Well, I can come to it, kind of, as a fan - purely as - someone else has done the work, and I've gotten to enjoy it. And whether they fly or not as a cover that I can do is another matter. But, you know, there's no work involved for me, except just putting myself into the song and finding a way into it that I think maybe brings something a little new to it.

SIMON: How did you decide on the twelve that you wind up doing?

COLVIN: The songs on "Uncovered" are kind of a combination of some old ones that I've done for years, like "Acadian Driftwood" and "American Tune" - Paul Simon. Acadian Driftwood's by Robbie Robertson...

SIMON: Let me stop you...


SIMON: Let's listen a little bit to "American Tune," if we can.

COLVIN: Great.


COLVIN: (Singing) Many's the time I've been mistaken and many times confused. Yes, and I've often felt forsaken and certainly misused. But it's all right...

SIMON: Is this a song you knew?

COLVIN: Yeah, I've known - I've worked that one up many years ago but never recorded it. And it seems always relevant.

SIMON: Are you ever reluctant to do a song that's so widely identified with someone else?

COLVIN: I'm pretty much always reluctant to...

SIMON: (Laughter).

COLVIN: Not to learn them, so much as to put them out there. And, yeah, I'm intimidated every time I learn a song by someone else that I love and think is brilliant.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another song, which - little more dated, OK? This is the soul classic made famous by Brenton Wood back in 1967, "Gimme Little Sign."


BRENTON WOOD: (Singing) If you do want me, gimme little sugar. If you don't want me, don't lead me on, girl. But if you need me, show me that you love me. And when I'm feeling blue, and I want you, there's just one thing that you should do. Just gimme some kind of sign, girl, oh my baby, to show me that you're mine, girl.

SIMON: OK, now let's hear yours.

COLVIN: (Laughter).


COLVIN: (Singing) Show me that you're mine, all right. Just give me some kind of sign, oh, darling, to show me that you're mine, oh, yeah. If you do want me, show me little...

This was one that really intimidated me. God, they all do because the versions that I am moved to learn are perfect to me. So how do you take a classic soul song when I'm just a folk singer, you know, with a guitar? So I thought the way to do it and - and this happens often, actually. When I cover songs, I slow them down a little bit and I think uncover the lyrics for people maybe somewhat.

SIMON: When you go back to your own songs, does a project like this change your approach or teach you something?

COLVIN: Learning all these songs just in the entirety of my tenure, you know, doing music - you know, one of the things that kept me from writing was I - just - writing was not easy - singing, easy, writing, terrifying.

And I think it took me all these years as a student to understand what's good and to realize that we all have something to say. And it's not that anyone has a corner on the market of subjects - you know, original subjects. We all tend to write about very similar things, really, when it comes right down to it. But, you know, I own my own point of view and my own set of words and ability to express them. And I finally got brave enough to tackle it.

SIMON: Shawn Colvin, her new album is called "Uncovered." Thanks so much for speaking with us.

COLVIN: Oh, much obliged.


COLVIN: (Singing) Winding your way down on Baker Street, you got a light in your head and dead on your feet. And another crazy day...

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