Feeling at home with some of music’s greatest singers and songwriters

It’s been 15 years since Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home” catapulted the singer-songwriter into the mainstream. Since then the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter has collaborated with artists from James Taylor and Béla Fleck to Mary Chapin Carpenter and Sting. For All Fall Down, Colvin adds to that list producer Buddy Miller (who recorded the album at his home studio in Nashville) and all-star guests including Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Jakob Dylan. Colvin also just released Diamond in the Rough: A Memoir, which chronicles her career as well as the mental health struggles she’s faced since age 19. Colvin, now 56, says writing the book “was like jumping off a cliff.”

Why record in Nashville?

They don’t call it Music City for nothing. There are just so many talented people in that town—songwriters, studio musicians. Many artists who record there don’t write their own songs, so there’s a real appreciation for those talents. Where somebody might not want to be a performer or solo artist, they can be an instrumentalist or write songs for others.

How did you pick guests?

I was casting the net wide on this record. I was like, “Well, who wants to write? Let’s have some fun. Let’s see how we do.” Emmylou Harris sang on one of my records and has been one of my heroes. That was just a pinch-myself moment. And Buddy was like, “Why don’t we call Alison?” Everybody knew where Buddy lived. It was really comfortable and homey, this small-town atmosphere with these incredibly gifted musicians. Jakob Dylan happened to be making a record there. We were in the same hotel, and I saw him and thought, This is a great opportunity. “You gotta come down and sing on something!” So he ended up singing a song.

And you wrote with him, right?

We did it through email. I had the music, which was John Leventhal’s, and I had some lyrics for the chorus and a title. But I was stuck. I talked to Jakob and said, “I’m sending you two songs. I’m sending you the music, some melody ideas and some words. If you want to work on them, have at it.” He picked “Seven Times the Charm,” sat down and wrote all the verses.

Do you enjoy co-writing?

It’s hard for me to complete something in a room with the person. I need to go off in my corner. I need to work by myself somewhat. If somebody wants to finish a song in the room in one or two sittings, I’m probably not going to be able to do it very well. It’s much more of a craft for some. There’s an online songwriters group, and every week they just throw out one line and you have to write a whole song based on that one line. I’m not good at that.

How was writing the book?

It was very different for me. Songs have limitations in terms of times, rhyme schemes, melody, how words flow, the character of the music—how you want to work with that or against it. So unless you’re a great writer and have some idea of how to do third-person in italics for this chapter, then go into first-person, then a flashback, keep it simple. It’s a little hard to believe that I have a life story worth telling. There are so many iconic people that the masses really want to know about. What makes me feel best about the book is that maybe I can help somebody.

–Amanda Farah

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