- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Shawn Colvin, the 50-year-old singer-songwriter with the honey voice and knack for wry lyrics, knows how the music business works at this stage in her career.

She just doesn’t cotton to following the game plan.

It started when she won two Grammys in 1998 for the downer hit “Sunny Came Home.” Most musicians would have scurried back to the recording studio hoping to duplicate “Sunny” by any means possible.

Instead, Miss Colvin took her time.

“I was 40 and ready to have a family. To me, [the Grammy win] was a blip in life. It never honestly crossed my mind to change my life and make the most of it,” Miss Colvin says.

When her 2001 follow up, “Whole New You,” disappointed, she begged out of her Sony contract in order to make music without distractions.

For an artist older than 40, abandoning a big-label security net isn’t a sound decision, at least financially speaking.

The results of her strong-willed path can be found on “These Four Walls,” which finds Miss Colvin working with the more artist-friendly Nonesuch Records, home to bands such as Wilco and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

“One of the things that was appealing about Nonesuch is that they liked the kind of artist that I am,” says Miss Colvin, who performs at the Birchmere in Alexandria on Monday. “It was a fresh start.”

The album features her trademark songwriting, tuneful without being overly maudlin, thought-provoking with enough hooks to make it worth one’s while.

The opening track, “Fill Me Up,” is a bona fide toe-tapper, while “Walls” features two curious covers — Paul Westerberg’s plaintive “Even Here We Are” and the Bee Gees’ “Words.”

Miss Colvin started her singing career covering other artists’ work and says she still learns from every cover she tackles.

She says she began her career late and admits to making a few mistakes along the way in her haste to play catch-up. She critiques some early songs as being too clever for their own good.

Today, Miss Colvin has found a better balance between doing her work, being a mother and hitting the road to promote the occasional album.

“Touring has become a job, not in the negative sense,” she says. “I’ve learned to do it very efficiently. My job on tour is to stay healthy and keep my energy.”

If fans miss her when she swings into town, there’s still hope for an older, wiser songstress.

“Satellite radio is really a bright, shining light,” she says. “I hear a lot of obscure things on it. We needed something like that.”

Born to rap

It’s difficult to do an interview when your throat’s acting up — and even harder to perform show after show with said malady. Yet San Francisco Bay Area emcee and producer Lyrics Born (who takes the 9:30 Club’s stage Sunday at 10 p.m. with Cut Chemist) doesn’t have time to let a little bodily shutdown slow down his soul train.

He had more than 150 shows scheduled this year from London to Lollapalooza, and on the recently released “Overnight Encore: Lyrics Born Live!” listeners can hear the world’s reception to his lyrical gymnastics and funked-out live sound (characterized by a real-life swingin’ backup band, not loops): They’ve gone crazy for it.

So he continues to give fans what they want, even if it means he’s a little hoarse.

“It’s been hectic,” he says without sarcasm, “[but] I just wanna give people something back.”

Lyrics Born, birthname Tom Shimura, dropped the needle on his hip-hop career in the early ‘90s when he and aspiring music makers Chief Xcel and Gift of Gab (of Blackalicious), DJ Shadow and Lateef the Truth Speaker met at the University of California at Davis. They founded the Solesides — now Quannum — label and established their futures one record at a time.

After appearing on several albums — both his own and those of his label mates — Lyrics Born hit pay dirt with his 2003 full-length solo debut, “Later That Day,” which earned props from critics and even MTV. The disc showcased his laid-back West Coast-style delivery and clever, conscious lyrics (“This is fiscal harassment/ They keep touching my assets”). After selling 120,000 copies, the rapper produced a “loose remix” album, 2005’s “Same [email protected]#$ Different Day,” which fared even better.

His D.C. show will reprise hits such as “Callin’ Out” and “I Changed My Mind” — both of which have made several small-screen appearances — as well as introduce new material.

“I’m really excited to play D.C.,” the musician says. “It’s not one of the stops we usually make.” Though he’s been rocking crowds of thousands lately, he says, “I like playing smaller crowds because you can really work the audience.”

Jenny Mayo

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