Arkansas Traveler

Even confirmed leg shavers with a rabid aversion to down-home folksiness may be charmed by Michelle Shocked’s latest. Her new songs are mostly bluegrassy, countrified numbers — you won’t find the sassy horn arrangements of 1989’s Captain Swing on Arkansas Traveler, nor does she attempt anything as daring as her venture into cool jazz on that record’s ”Streetcorner Ambassador.” But what’s here is solid, helped along by luminaries including guitarists Pops Staples and Doc Watson, Clarence ”Gatemouth” Brown (on viola), fiddler Alison Krauss, and Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band. Shocked’s voice is as clear as dewdrops on honeysuckle on the ballad ”Blackberry Blossom,” and she’s as socially aware as ever on ”Come a Long Way,” a catchy folk-rock lament for the ravaged city of L.A. But Shocked sometimes ladles on the homespun charm too thick (”Strawberry Jam” comes with its own jingle: ”If you want the best jam, you got to make your own”). Then it seems she’s trying too hard to reach all those urban intellectuals who, between pages of The Nation, harbor the idle dream of packing it all in to grow organic vegetables. B

Arkansas Traveler
  • Music