Those whoíve heard former folkie Michelle Shockedís concerts these past few years wonít be surprised by her evolution into a soulful contemporary blueswoman. But this albumís beauty and clever fusions of gospel and dub, textural rock and New Orleans street music, and just about anything else that smacks of the South and Afro-American culture that crossed her mind during its sessions are surprising for their relaxed, authentic, and precise execution. The discís signatures are her grimy, luxurious guitar and her powerful soul belting, both tweaked by the kind of sonic voodoo perfected by Daniel Lanois. There are spirituals, like the shadow-lined "Good News," gut-wrenching laments, like "Little Billie" (which chronicles a New Orleans funeral), and numbers about environmental ruin and human unkindness. But what mostly beams from these songs is the streak of joy that runs through their performances ó a kind of spiritual beacon thatís the result of the church sounds (organ, melismatic vocal phrasing) and lyric turns, as well as the attitude of the playing. Itís good-hearted music, in every sense of the term. Shocked has released a second disc, Dub Natural, thatís essentially the instrumental tracks of Deep Natural trimmed of the vocals. That disc also stands as a work of moody beauty.
(Michelle Shocked plays the Middle East this Thursday, May 9. Call 617-864-EAST.)