Each successive Michelle Shocked album marks a departure from its predecessor, and her fifth album, Kind Hearted Woman, was true to that in more ways than one. Shocked endured an acrimonious split from Mercury Records following her controversial 1992 album Arkansas Traveler and began selling an early self-released version of Kind Hearted Woman at her shows and by mail order on March 25, 1994. (The 1996 version under consideration here was re-recorded for retail release by Private Music. This is the so-called black edition, since the cover is black with a white line drawing. The earlier version is called the white edition and features a white cover with a black line drawing.) Following an album on which she worked with a different name band on nearly every track, Shocked took things back to basics, recording with just her own electric guitar for accompaniment on several tracks, plus selective use of a rhythm section and harmony vocals on others. That was appropriate to a set of slow-tempo, minor-key compositions treating rural scenes and desperate circumstances. Like Bruce Springsteen on his Nebraska album, Shocked was concerned with what sounded like Depression-era issues of poverty and hard times in the heartland, beginning with the story song "Stillborn," a portrait of a midwife heading home after delivering a dead infant. A dead toddler was the subject of "A Child Like Grace"; a boy lost his father to a bolt of lightning in "Eddie"; and death loomed elsewhere as Shocked surveyed the lives of poor farmers and cattlemen. Her defense against a world in which God made grave mistakes and didn't care was a typical sense of flippancy and outright defiance. In words that might have acknowledged her recent career struggles, she sang in "The Hard Way," "I always believed I ran away but now I know I was told to go. Maybe it worked out better this way. What could you say I didn't already know?" And the final song, "No Sign of Rain," found her "Fanning my desires, spitting in the eye of hurricanes." Clearly, she was ready to continue no matter the obstacles.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann