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Shawn Colvin Revisits ‘A Few Small Repairs’ Two Decades On

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Alexandra Valenti
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In 1996, Shawn Colvin released the album A Few Small Repairs. It was her fourth effort for the Columbia imprint, and it reunited her with longtime co-writer and producer John Leventhal.

The South Dakota-born singer-songwriter had tried for radio hits on previous albums, and though critical acclaim and Grammy nods had come her way, commercial success seemed elusive. Then, in the wake of a divorce, she wrote a group of hard-hitting songs, including “Get Out of This House” (about buyer’s remorse, she says) and “Sunny Came Home,” which was issued as the record’s second single in the summer of 1997.

That song became a Top Ten hit for Colvin and earned her three Grammy nominations, two of which she was awarded in 1998. Since that album, Colvin has maintained a successful career with albums such as 2006’s These Four Walls and 2015’s Uncovered. Colvin’s current tour, though, finds her celebrating two decades of A Few Small Repairs with an expanded edition of the LP out and a tour during which she plays the album from front to back.

Colvin visits Salina’s Stiefel Theatre on in Salina on Sunday, Oct. 22, with opening act Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams.

Interview highlights:

Jedd Beaudoin: I read in the liner notes to the new edition of A Few Small Repairs that when you were going into make it, you’d come to a conclusion that you weren’t necessarily the kind of artist who would have hits, that maybe you were more of an album artist.

Shawn Colvin: That’s probably pretty accurate, but it is ironic. The first three records I made, the record company was keen on trying that, which is fair enough. But it didn’t really take. So, by the time we were making A Few Small Repairs, we just didn’t worry about it. It’s funny, but I think the timing of the record and what was going on, musically and radio-wise at that time and the freedom we felt not to address the hits idea, resulted, ironically in a hit.

The record actually comes out in late 1996 and it does this thing that records used to do, which was it had a bit of a build. “Sunny Came Home” hit, not a year later, but several months after the initial release..

It did. I have to credit the record company. They released one single first, “Get Out of This House,” to kind of take the temperature of the powers that be in terms of radio and VH1 at the time. I’d been doing “Sunny Came Home” since the record had been released, in my solo shows, and people liked it but it wasn’t like, ‘This is getting a massive response.’ So, [the record company] centered their efforts on that song and, lo and behold, it took.

We can never know, when we create something, why [exactly] it latches on but I’m curious if you have any idea about what it was, for people, that they latched onto with that tune?

I do. I think it was a story song with a character and there was mystery to it and it was obviously a catchy tune. But I think the subject matter, or lack thereof, piqued peoples’ interest and people were drawn to Sunny, to that character, and to what the heck she was doing.

Because you’re coming to Kansas and, specifically, Salina, we should probably talk about “Wichita Skyline.” Were you familiar with the region? Or was it something where you were dealing with kind of an imagined landscape and they names were maybe exotic to you somehow?

I’m familiar with the region only in that I was born and raised in South Dakota. I felt like I had a little insight as to what the landscape might be like. And the notion of Kansas, I’ll admit it [was something I share with everyone], a kinship with Kansas because of Wizard of Oz. That was a huge movie for me. But “Wichita Skyline” was really inspired by South Dakota. I really loved the way [Wichita] sounded, [I loved] to sing that word, it fit in perfectly with the lyrics I was trying to write. I can’t remember whether it was before or after that, but John Leventhal, my co-writer and producer came up with the guitar line over the solo and bridge part that we completely lifted from “Wichita Lineman.”

As far as Salina goes, I just looked at a map. And you’ll notice on the record that I pronounce it incorrectly. I say “Saleena,” which I’m really embarrassed about. One of the reasons for that—and I just didn’t know better, so my apologies—the following line is ‘Searching the sky for a patch of blue.’ And there’s a movie called Patch of Blue in which the main character is Salina, so I was just pulling things out. But, obviously, wrong pronunciation, and I do it right now.

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Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

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