I don’t know why I know these things, but I do

In the early ’80s vinyl LPs were still the standard music medium. But for up-and-coming independent folk artists the cost for studio time, production and packaging was so prohibitive that many a fine musician was unable find a listening audience.

Taking advantage of an ongoing songwriter’s night at the Cornelia Street Café in New York’s West Village, a group of regular performers formed a Songwriter’s Exchange as a way to hone their skills and especially to publicize their music by recording an album with the backing of one of the café’s owners. The award winning record was well received and helped to fuel media attention for the entire Greenwich Village scene.

This prompted the co-operative group to seek out an old disco called the Speak Easy and create a prominent new performance space for singer/songwriters. Then, under the guidance of leading member, Jack Hardy, they filed for status as a non-profit organization and began to publish a unique periodical, called “Fast Folk Magazine” that included a vinyl LP with every issue.

Between 1982 and 1997, 105 issues of “Fast Folk Magazine” were published and nearly two thousand songs (representing over 600 singer/songwriters) found a means of distribution, first on that much-coveted vinyl and then later on CD.  By the time digital recording became prevalent the concept had run its course and all recorded music, press clippings and magazines were donated to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Still flourishing in re-purposed form, it is here that one can listen to some truly exceptional recordings by artists from all over the world as well as such future notables as: Suzanne Vega, Lyle Lovett, Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked, Steve Forbert, Lucy Kaplansky, Christine Lavin … and with a rambling past, Shawn Colvin.

Born in Vermillion, South Dakota in 1956 and having learned to play guitar at the age of 10, Colvin spent most of her youth in London, Ontario and (the great city of) Carbondale, Illinois, where she graduated from high school early and formed her own hard-rock band.  Next she headed down to Austin to play with a country-swing group, followed by a year and a half spent on the San Francisco folk circuit.  In 1980 Colvin moved to New York and, in addition to playing with a bluegrass outfit, joined the country/Americana Buddy Miller Band. She also co-founded a jazz-rock group before finally returning to solo work in 1983.

It was then that she gained the attention of the “Fast Folk” cooperative, which recorded an early version of today’s selection. Colvin also appeared in a number of Off-Broadway productions and in 1987 received a critical boost when she toured with Suzanne Vega and sang backup on Vega’s memorable “Luka”.  Having landed a major recording contract, and with Vega now backing her, Colvin released her Grammy Award winning debut album (for Best Contemporary Folk Album), “Steady On” in 1989.

Like other musicians we’ve perused (e.g. Eva Cassidy), Colvin’s oeuvre is so diverse that she has never found a radio niche (as one critic put it, “she’s too folk for mainstream and too urbane for country”). However, with eight studio albums to date Colvin has been  applauded by the critics with ten Grammy nominations, having won three of them, including 1997’s “Song of the Year” and “Record of the Year” for “Sunny Came Home”. 

With her affecting songwriting, “cool contralto” vocals, rhythmic playing and unusual tunings, Shawn Colvin has also earned a dedicated following; and is without a doubt just the kind of artist the founders of “Fast Folk Magazine” had in mind those many years ago. First recorded as a “Fast Folk” release, today’s selection (for which she was nominated for the Best Female Pop Vocal Grammy in 1992) was featured on Colvin’s second studio album, “Fat City”.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Thursday 16 August 

 I Don’t Know Why

 I don’t know why

The sky is so blue

And I don’t know why

I’m so in love with you

But if there were no music

Then I would not get through

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

I don’t know why

But somewhere dreams come true

And I don’t know where

But there will be a place for you

And every time you look that way

I would lay down my life for you

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

I don’t know why

But some are going to make you cry

And I don’t know how

But I will get you by, I will try

They’re not trying to cause you pain

They’re just afraid of loving you

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

I don’t know why

The trees grow so tall

And I don’t know why

I don’t know anything at all

But if there were no music

Then I would not get through

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

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