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Michelle Shocked @ Rhythm Room

Michelle Shocked's sophomore album, Short Sharp Shocked (1988), was a best-selling rebuke of the walkin'-on-sunshine Valium binge that ruled pop music in the late 1980s. Filled with pissed-off-sounding folk-rock paeans to the American condition, the album also sported a magnificently jarring cover image: A black-and-white photo of Shocked (born Michelle Karen Johnston) getting nonchalantly throttled by a mustachioed San Francisco cop during a protest march in 1984. (It's the nonchalance that really sells the image — even as he manhandles the musician's larynx, the dude looks completely at peace, as if ordering bear claws.) Ultimately, Shocked relinquished her image as a raging bullhorn-mama (as well as the apocryphal bit of self-mythology in which the musician supposedly spent part of her youth in a mental institution) and found more intimate tones: gospel, relationships, nostalgia. "Love's song was never in my key," the Texan acknowledges on her latest album, Soul of My Soul (2009), a sly disclaimer before launching into a meditation on love. Walking on sunshine? Hardly. But these days, she's more likely to get choked up than choked out.

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