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Music Review

The gospel according to Michelle Shocked

Michelle Shocked demanded (and received) singalongs during her performance Tuesday at Club Passim. Michelle Shocked demanded (and received) singalongs during her performance Tuesday at Club Passim.
Email|Print| Text size + By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / February 7, 2008

CAMBRIDGE - Michelle Shocked wanted singalongs. Lots of them. And she wasn't going to let anyone off the hook. "Louder! Louder! As loud as you can!," the folk singer demanded, and the audience at the first of two shows Tuesday at Club Passim obliged as the chorus to "Prodigal Daughter (Cotton-Eyed Joe)" swung by for another go-round.

Such forced inclusiveness quietly encapsulated the performance. Shocked spoke as though any failure to get the response she wanted would lie at the feet of the crowd. She raised a defiant eyebrow when she dropped "the J-bomb" - Jesus - twice. But in both cases, it seemed more like she was daring the audience to object when it wasn't clear that anyone had so much as blinked.

It was an attitude typically projected by someone who insists on being the smartest person in the room, and it marred an otherwise beautiful "Uncloudy Day," sung a cappella by Shocked as her musicians backed her with four-part gospel harmony. A few other songs lost their way as she punctuated them with rambling digressions like the one during "Anchorage" about being in New York for the Giants' victory parade. One audience member, objecting to Shocked running roughshod over an earlier vow, pleaded, "You promised us no sports!"

When she wasn't in preaching-huckster mode, though, Shocked led her band down some interesting paths. Keyboardist Reggie Royal's banjo-like piano lines gave the mid-tempo folk of "Prodigal Daughter" a welcome expansiveness, and "When I Grow Up" was treated like dirty rock 'n' boogie, with two electric guitars and a screaming, howling vocal. The closing "Can't Take My Joy" was practically dub reggae, with Rich Armstrong subjecting his trumpet to a variety of electronic effects.

But even with solo spotlights for Armstrong (who sang "God Bless the Child" in a Jackie Wilson-clear tone), Royal, and electric guitarist Erin McKeown, Shocked maintained an air of indulgence that might not have been tolerated by an audience not already in her pocket. The tears of compassion she claimed to be crying during the new "Liquid Prayer" may have been real, but they were also fueled by a dollop of self-righteousness.

Michelle Shocked

At: Club Passim, first set, Tuesday

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