It’s been quite a year for Nashville-based Sixpence None the Richer. Since kicking off 1998 with a new, self-titled release on a new label, Squint Entertainment, the five-piece band has accomplished more this year than many bands accomplish in a career.
Take, for example, their invitation to perform at Nashville’s talent-laden Lilith Fair stop this summer. Or the Nov. 28 debut of the single “Kiss Me” at number 90 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Or opening slots for such acts as The Wallflowers, Abra Moore, Brian Setzer, and ex-Duran Duran guitarist John Taylor. Or the addition this month of the single’s François Truffaut-inspired video to VH1’s playlist.
But Sixpence didn’t just pop up overnight. The band, formed in 1992, released two critically acclaimed full-length albums and toured with 10,000 Maniacs and The Smithereens before relocating from Texas to Nashville in 1996. As represented by the addictive “Kiss Me,” Sixpence’s literate art-pop strikes a similar chord as The Sundays or Natalie Merchant-era Maniacs. The song is a light dessert complimenting a rich and flavorful meal of an album. Guitarist Matt Slocum’s pensive lyrics reference works by W.H. Auden and Pablo Neruda, while layered instrumentation mixes string arrangements, pedal steel, and hurdy gurdy with catchy guitar riffs and Leigh Nash’s bold yet coyly appealing vocals. The album has received two Nashville Music Award nominations, for “Pop Album of the Year” and for “Album Artwork of the Year.”
Meanwhile, the single continues to make its mark on radio and televisionsomewhat surprising given the small (albeit well-funded) nature of the band’s label. “Kiss Me” is currently receiving spins on Modern Rock and Hot AC stations in over 90 cities (including WKDF-103.3FM); it was featured on a November episode of Dawson’s Creek and will soon be heard on FOX’s Party of Five, NBC’s Trinity, and the NBC movie of the week Vanished Without a Trace.
Sixpence appeared twice last month on VH1’s “Midnight Minute” segment performing 60-second acoustic versions of “Kiss Me” and “Lines of My Earth.” Remarkably, 1999 could be even bigger for Sixpence, as the well-received “Kiss Me” will be shipped to Top 40 stations later this month.
After years of struggle, Shawn Colvin shot from cult favorite to national star with her 1996 album, A Few Small Repairs. Accordingly, then, her follow-up album would likely be approached as an immensely important project. Surely she would end up wringing her hands and pulling her hair and wrestling with her advisers and her demons. That’s how it’s done in the ’90s, right?
But Colvin has decided to sidestep the whole issue. Instead of aiming for a high-profile, high-impact successor to her Grammy-winning album, the singer-songwriter instead has released the decidedly low-key Holiday Songs and Lullabies. It’s a choice obviously inspired by her personal life rather than the sales charts: Since her Grammy-winning, million-selling breakthrough, Colvin has married and given birth to her first child.
Recorded when she was eight months pregnant, Holiday Songs and Lullabies is a winsome, late-night album that sets acoustic tunes against subtle orchestrations and gently pulsing rhythms. Featuring 14 songs, it consists largely of freshly conceived translations of rarely performed children’s lullabies, along with a few beautifully rendered holiday songs (including my favorite new seasonal recording of the year, a spare, candlelit take on Vince Guaraldi’s great “Christmas Time Is Here”).
In every way, it’s quite a departure from the tension and drama that Colvin packed into such breakthrough radio hits as “Sunny Came Home,” with its focus on a troubled woman’s struggle for balance, and “Get Out of This House,” an angry kiss-off to an ex-lover. More suitable to roasting chestnuts than to jingling sleigh bells, Colvin’s album was inspired by a favorite childhood book, illustrator Maurice Sendak’s Lullabies and Night Songs, which her parents presented to her when she was 8 years old.
Musically, the collection is unlike anything she’s done before. In tone, it’s more reminiscent of her early acoustic albums than the electrically charged A Few Small Repairs. But her judicious use of strings and piano also separates it from the music her fans have come to expect. In this regard, it’s like the perfect Christmas gift: a nicely wrapped package that contains a delightful surprise, one that’s sure to bring pleasure for many years to come.
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