Soloists join forces in Oly

January 21, 2011 

Tonight, Shawn Colvin and Loudon Wainwright III play a concert together in Olympia.

“It’s the first time these two have toured together,” said Kevin Boyer, marketing director of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, where the concert will happen. “They are among the few solo songwriters who have remained true to the roots of what a solo songwriter does.”

OK, they are both singer-songwriters. And they’re both guitarists. Aside from that, though, it wouldn’t seem on the surface that the man who wrote “Dead Skunk” would have much in common with the earnest Lilith Fair veteran.

Compare and contrast with our handy who’s who. Born: Jan. 10, 1956

Biggest hit: “Sunny Came Home” hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1997 and won Colvin Grammy awards for both song of the year and record of the year (“A Few Small Repairs”). The song is about a woman who kills her husband and sets fire to their home. Although Colvin is best known for personal songs, this wasn’t one. “For the record, I’ve never set fire to my house or murdered anyone,” she impishly told the London Guardian in 2007.

Musical inspirations: The Beatles and Joni Mitchell. She met Mitchell and recorded 1992’s “Fat City” at Mitchell’s home (Mitchell is credited with playing percussion); Colvin’s producer Larry Klein was married to Mitchell at that time. “I was in awe of her,” Colvin told Acoustic Guitar Magazine in 2007.

Musical moods (according to www.allmusic.com): Bittersweet, earnest, gentle, intimate, laid-back, literate, organic, passionate, poignant, reflective, searching, warm, yearning

Last album: “Shawn Colvin Live” (2009), an intimate disc with material spanning her career, was nominated for a Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy. “There are few artists whose songs feel as lonely and personal as Colvin’s — it always felt when Colvin was backed by a band that she wanted to turn around any second and tell them to get out of the way,” a reviewer wrote. “And for good reason – Shawn Colvin is a solo acoustic performer of stratospheric skill.”

Recent gig: Colvin and her friend Patty Griffin did a benefit concert last month for Marathon Kids, a program that provides walking, running, nutrition and gardening programs for kids in Austin, Texas, where Colvin lives.

Best trivia: Colvin has twice appeared on “The Simpsons” as Rachel Jordan, lead singer for the Christian rock band Kovenant. Her recording of “Viva Las Vegas” plays during the closing credits of “The Big Lebowski.” And in 2007, she recorded a poignant acoustic cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Born: Sept. 5, 1946

Biggest hit: “Dead Skunk” made it to No. 16 on the Billboard chart in 1973 – the only one of Wainwright’s songs to do so. According to www.songfacts.com, the song did not have the hidden meaning some sought to ascribe to it. “There were a number of alternative interpretations of the meaning of this song’s lyrics, ranging from man’s destruction of nature to an allegory about President Richard Nixon. When asked about these differing readings by the London Times on July 26, 2008, Wainwright replied with open palms: ‘Well, OK. But for me, it was just about a dead skunk lying there in the highway.’ ”

Musical inspirations: Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan

Moods (according to www.allmusic.com): Autumnal, bittersweet, gentle, humorous, intimate, literate, playful, poignant, raucous, reflective, silly, warm, wistful, wry, yearning

Last album: “Songs for the New Depression” (2010), as the name implies, is a topical album about the economy. On “Times Is Hard,” he sings: “Out of luck/Out of hope/I’m wondering why I even cast that vote/I took that sign off of my front lawn/All I can do is play this song.”

Recent gig: Perhaps thanks to that album – and to the fact that he’s lately been writing topical songs for National Public Radio and “Nightline” – Wainwright performed as part of the Economist’s World in 2011 Festival in December. The New York City festival also featured former President Bill Clinton.

Best trivia: He was in the same third-grade class as Liza Minnelli and had a tremendous crush on her. On his website (www.lw3.com), he quotes the 1974 song “Liza”: “After school, we two engaged in pre-pubescent play/At your house afternoons we spent cruising your black driveway/In your junior Thunderbird electric kiddie car/I chauffeured you; you lounged in back/Back then you were a star.”

Shawn Colvin & Loudon Wainwright III

What: The two singer-songwriters stop in Olympia on their first joint tour.

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia

Tickets: $30.50-$46.50 for adults, $28.50-$42 for seniors and students, $15.25-$23.25 for youths

More information: 360-753-8586 or www.washingtoncenter.org

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