"I’m the most sophisticated hillbilly you’ll ever meet."
When Michelle Shocked says this about herself, it’s hard not to crack up. 'Hillbilly', after all, is no compliment. And frankly, it's tough to reconcile that reflex image of a backwoods, overalls-and-a-smile hillbilly with this focused, erudite singer-songwriter. If such a creature exists, however, Shocked is its picture, sans Billy-Bob teeth. Come to think of it, she was born in or at least near the backwoods of East Texas to a carny father and a fresh-faced high-school mother after being conceived, if memory serves, "in the backseat of my Uncle Huby's Chevy at the prom."
Shocked eventually decamped for San Francisco and, ultimately, the peripatetic life of a touring musician. Fittingly, there’s a phantom Texas taproot and that self-styled wanderlust in her music. Much like the work of her East Texas peers Willie Nelson, Victoria Williams and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Shocked's songs hold fast to a definite core, but owe no stylistic allegiance. Shocked has transcended class bias, while retaining the parts that make sense, in a 23-year career that has seen critical acclaim at every juncture. In the early 1990s, she famously escaped major-label indentured servitude, subverting the artist-label relationship that helped lead to the current trend toward artistic self-containment. She has made good use of her independence, releasing more critically-acclaimed albums on her Mighty Sound label. Her lucky thirteenth album, Soul of My Soul, is the latest of these. Two intense, seemingly divergent, emotions - love and anger - dovetail on Soul, a passionate album in every sense. "I think the meditation these past several years, ever since I stopped drinking, really, has been to jettison rage," says Shocked, "without losing the ability to feel strong feelings."