Song of the Week – Shotgun Down the Avalanche, Shawn Colvin


I recently read a blog post by music industry insider Bob Lefsetz (The Lefsetz Letter) about the new Rosanne Cash album, The River & The Thread. (He liked it.) He mentioned that the songs were co-written with her husband, John Leventhal, and went on to say that Leventhal “worked his magic most famously on Shawn Colvin’s debut, still my favorite album of the nineties, even though it was released at the tail end of 1989.”

That comment was enough to inspire me to blow the dust off a SotW essay I started years ago on Colvin’s “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” – a song off said debut Steady On that Leventhal produced and co-wrote with Colvin.

This is a lovely song with the “avalanche” serving as a metaphor for the fragility of a faltering relationship. (Stevie Nicks conjured up a similar image with her classic “Landslide.”) In fact, it’s about her relationship with Leventhal!

I love you so much and it’s so bizarre
A mystery that goes on and on and on
This is the best thing and the very most hard
And we don’t get along

After countless appeals
We keep spinning our wheels
On this mountain of new fallen snow
So I let go the catch and we are over the edge
You have left me nowhere to go

The song is beautifully arranged and performed by Colvin and Leventhal. Colvin has described getting the sound she wanted by tuning “the low E string down to D so when the verses and chorus hit the major V, a D chord, the bass would ring out.”

Steady On contains many other fine songs that had the benefit of some terrific supporting musicians including Bruce Hornsby (piano), Rick Marotta (drums), Soozie Tyrell (fiddle player now with Springsteen’s E Street Band) and Suzanne Vega (background vocals).

Enjoy… until next week.

One thought on “Song of the Week – Shotgun Down the Avalanche, Shawn Colvin

  1. 1980. I walked with Willy Deville over to Shawn’s house to borrow a cup of sugar. I remember walking through Abingdon Square, Willy telling me how much he admired Captain Beefheart as a guitarist. Shawn was friendly, and she had a big iguana in her house, so we had plenty to talk about. My gf and I had had an iguana for a while, too, before she lost it in a custody fight. Lee liked to sit on top of the instant-on TV, which was nice and warm.

    I’ve always thought Colvin’s voice was too sweet, too pretty, as it is on this song, but I wouldn’t argue if some liked it for that very reason. It interests me that the sound of this song is so close to the sound of the new Leventhal and Cash album (and other things they’ve worked on together), the sounds of the guitar and the vocals right up front, with open resonant air behind them.

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