Michelle Shocked comes full circle. Her debut album was a bootleg that caught the world off guard and introduced us to her. Unaware that ToHeavenURide was being recorded, it spotlights her where she's always shone brightest live, on stage, in front of an audience. It was a special invitation to personal a gospel set at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and what a show it was! Sister Shocked shines throughout. Highlights include her cover of the Billie Holliday classic God Bless The Child, her cover of The Band's The Weight and amazing renditions of soulful, yes spiritual Shocked originals such as Quality of Mercy which has never before appeared on a Michelle Shocked release (it was on the Grammy Award winning soundtrack, Dead Man Walking).
Better late than never. These recently discovered tapes from the 2003 Telluride Bluegrass Festival find the eclectic Americana of Michelle Shocked in pure gospel mode. Backed by a vocal quartet, the "sacred steel" of Hot Rize's Nick Forster, and a killer band, Shocked does her best to channel her inner Mavis Staples, not only on Staple Singers classics such as "Wade in the Water" and "Uncloudy Day" but also on the Band's "The Weight" (which featured Staples as a guest performer in The Last Waltz). The audience joins the chorus on the frequent call-and-response of the material, which includes Shocked originals such as "Quality of Mercy" and "Good News" and the traditional "Study War No More" (more often titled "Down by the Riverside") along with the incantatory opener, "Strange Things Happening Every Day" (from Sister Rosetta Tharpe), and the sanctified reggae closer, "Can't Take My Joy." While some of Shocked's patter sounds like blackface minstrelsy (though she forthrightly acknowledges the issue of race) and "God Bless the Child" finds her way beyond her depth--as if she learned it from Blood, Sweat & Tears rather than Billie Holiday--the spirited performance makes a joyful noise. --Don McLeese