- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

NEW YORK —On the opening song of her first disc of original material since 1996, Shawn Colvin sings, "All of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find."
Recent new parents, like her, will understand instantly the feeling of a life being turned upside down by a babys arrival.
For anyone else, though, the lyric from "Matter of Minutes" could mean something different. It could be about a relationship in upheaval, or about someone paralyzed by a tough decision. It could mean whatever a listener wants it to mean.
Perfect, Miss Colvin says.
Thats exactly the ambiguity she was searching for — and agonized to achieve.
Her album, "Whole New You," may sound like a smooth sequel to "A Few Small Repairs," the disc that earned Miss Colvin three Grammys and her greatest success. The reality was a lot different.
Miss Colvin felt the pressure of following up a hit and, as a songwriter who often wrote about her life, struggled to make her music reflect the changes she had undergone marriage, a move to Austin and the birth of a daughter, now 2.
Specifically, how do you write about a baby? You dont want to turn into the musical equivalent of a parent who bores friends with countless snapshots and details about eating habits.
"Its not very well-plowed territory," she says. "You dont have the experience of going to your favorite artist and listening to their 'just had a kid record. Fell in love or just got dumped? You get a lot of those. We all know how to do those records."
The trick is not to write something sickly sweet, she says.
"Nobody wants to feel that youve lost your edge," she says. "Theres that fear. But if its not sentimental and smarmy, then what are you saying? If youre saying anything at all negative or ambivalent about being a parent, thats a taboo."
With "Matter of Minutes," she broke the logjam. "Whole New You" isnt necessarily a baby album, but its clear the emotions she mines come from a place of epochal changes.
The most overt parenthood song, "Id Say Im Sorry Now," is a new mother issuing a blanket apology for anything she does wrong in the future. Still, its not hard imagining those thoughts coming from a new lover.
One new song, "Another Plane Went Down," has a dreamlike quality, almost like it was written in a state of sleep deprivation.
Not a chance, she says.
"When I was that sleep-deprived, I could no more write a song than fly to the moon," she says. "There was no way to make a creative thing out of it."
Miss Colvin made the album with longtime songwriting partner and producer John Leventhal, whos married to Rosanne Cash. She writes the words, hes largely responsible for the music. They couldnt duplicate the quick, easy work environment that produced "A Few Small Repairs," however.
Simple logistics Miss Colvins in Texas; Mr. Leventhals in New York made things tougher. And as much as the pressures of following up a successful album are a music business cliche, its a cliche for a reason. There were a lot of stops and starts.
"I felt as though I should hurry, although I knew it was a bad idea," she says. "I felt that there was something I should know that helped the other one to be successful that I should somehow be retaining, yet it was an accident. I dont know what makes these things hits.
"And theres that desire to have another successful record, because its fun and lucrative," she says. "Theres all kinds of pressure."
Such dynamics can cause panicked record companies to suggest song doctors, or new producers, anything to shake things up but it never came to that. Fortunately, she says, Columbia Records left her alone.
The anxiety is gone now. Miss Colvin, who does some occasional acting and has been featured as a voice on "The Simpsons," is enjoying some of the strategic maneuvering that surrounds an albums release.
"I know the game better now because of the last record, and Im interested in the moves the record company makes to promote it," she says. "The business aspect of it is actually a lot of fun."

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