Michelle Shocked sure picked an interesting venue to unleash a fiery gospel set of tunes on unsuspecting fans: Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Fortunately, despite her contract having a "no taping" clause for the fest, her set was recorded for a fest DVD, and now surfaces as ToHeavenURide.
Backed by a solid group of musicians including Hot Rize's Nick Forster, Shocked shows all sides of her persona as she glides through gospel, soul, and rock and roll, all with deft precision.
She opens the disc with gospel music tinted with R&B in the way of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Strange Things Happen," and then puts a personal touch on The Band's "The Weight," played just as the classic was meant to be played. Forster adds a great steel solo that sets the song off.
Shocked is one of the more underrated songwriters, nearly a female Bob Dylan. "The Quality of Mercy," recorded for the film Dead Man Walking, shows off her skill – "I've been three times a sinner and only two times a saint" is modern poetry.
She leads the band through gospel in the traditional sense on tracks like "Uncloudy Day" and "Study War No More," with a lounge act slant on "God Bless the Child," and even takes a stab at reggae on the set-closing "Can't Take My Joy." It's on bluesy rockers such as "Good News," that Shocked is at her best.
A bluegrass festival may be an odd place for gospel, but as nearly all music can be traced back to the church, perhaps the venue's not so strange after all. Regardless of setting, this is a strong live set from a great performer.
ToHeavenURide will be out on September 4 on Mighty Sound Records