“There are backstories to these songs,” Shawn Colvin noted as she finished “The Facts About Jimmy,” a tune from her platinum-selling 1996 album “A Few Small Repairs.” Indeed there were, and part of the charm in hearing Colvin play that entire record in sequence on Monday night at the Paramount Theatre was hearing her share some of those backstories along the way.
PHOTOS: A-list gallery from Shawn Colvin concert at the Paramount
Colvin has spent most of this fall on a seven-week tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of “A Few Small Repairs.” (Technically it’s been 21 years, but much of the album’s impact came in 1997, leading up to two Grammys it received in early 1998.) Monday’s finale was a homecoming not only for longtime Austinite Colvin but for three bandmates who also are fixtures in the local music community. Indeed, much of what made this show special was the band, which included keyboardist Michael Ramos, bassist Glenn Fukunaga and drummer Mike Meadows.
The ringer was guitarist Larry Campbell, a former sideman with Bob Dylan, Doug Sahm and Levon Helm who has known Colvin for nearly four decades. Campbell and his wife, Teresa Williams, provided vital instrumental and vocal support to Colvin throughout her nearly two-hour performance, in addition to opening the night with a 45-minute set as a duo.
Concerts in which bands play one of their best-known records from start to finish have become a fad of sorts in recent years, and it’s a welcome trend in many respects. At a time when streaming services tend to steer listeners toward singles and playlists, the cohesion of a nearly hourlong album is a refreshing reminder of why the form dominated music sales for decades. When a lot of thought and care goes into the selection and sequencing of songs, a great album can add up to much more than the sum of its parts.
READ MORE: American-Statesman 2012 interview with Shawn Colvin
Not to say that albums don’t have stand-alone hits, too. The first track on “A Few Small Repairs” was “Sunny Came Home,” which won Grammys for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year. It’s the first song on the album, so when Colvin played it right up-front — after a beautiful cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” to open the show — she joked that she understood some people might be there just for that song. “It’s done. We hope you don’t go!”
The appreciative audience stuck around for the duration, eager to hear how the evening would unfold as Colvin proceeded through the album’s dozen tracks. One of the most illuminating moments was a mid-set pause when Colvin explained that her merch table in the lobby included a reproduction of the composition notebook full of brainstorms and lyrical progressions that ultimately led to “A Few Small Repairs.” An example: “Sunny Came Home” started out as “Forty Red Men,” then went through several iterations before finding its final form.
Musical highlights included “You and the Mona Lisa,” with an unusual arrangement that included dueling melodicas from Ramos and Williams; the elegiac “If I Were Brave,” which began with Colvin solo at the piano before Campbell and Ramos added beautiful accents of fiddle and flugelhorn, respectively; and “Suicide Alley,” which put the spotlight on Fukunaga’s artful playing as he faded the song to a gentle close.
The down side to full-album shows like this, of course, is what you don’t hear from the rest of the artist’s career. That said, Colvin chose well for the five other numbers in the show. One of the greatest interpreters of her generation — there’s a reason she’s made two all-covers albums — Colvin supplemented the opening Petty tune with songs by Tom Waits (“Ol’ 55”) and Warren Zevon (“Tenderness on the Block”) in the encore. And she added two from her Grammy-winning 1989 debut album “Steady On”: its personal-anthem title track and the gorgeous “Diamond in the Rough,” which ended the night.
That meant forgoing early-career favorites such as “Polaroids,” “I Don’t Know Why,” “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” and “Ricochet in Time.” When you’ve written and recorded as many great songs as Colvin has in her three-decade recording career, some omissions are inevitable. On this occasion, the trade-off was worth it to hear her best-known album in all its glory.
Campbell and Williams’ opening set recalled a similar one they’d played two years ago for a Jackson Browne concert at Bass Concert Hall that, fittingly, featured a cameo appearance from Colvin. Playing songs from their two duo records — plus a luminous version of the Louvin Brothers’ “You’re Running Wild” that, as Campbell explained in a rambling but fascinating aside, traced back to the days Campbell and Colvin played in a band with Buddy Miller in New York circa 1981 — they provided an ideal lead-in to the main attraction.
2. Sunny Came Home
3. Get Out of This House
4. The Facts About Jimmy
5. You and the Mona Lisa
7. I Want It Back
8. If I Were Brave
9. Wichita Skyline
10. 84,000 Different Delusions
11. Suicide Alley
12. New Thing Now
13. Nothin’ on Me
14. Ol’ 55
15. Steady On
16. Tenderness on the Block
17. Diamond in the Rough