Michelle Shocked

Mexican Standoff

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Growing up in Texas near the Mexican border, Michelle Shocked has presumably had some firsthand experience with the collision and collusion of Latin and Anglo cultures, and apparently this thinking has informed her 2005 album Mexican Standoff, in which she offers an idiosyncratic take on Latin music. "Idiosyncratic" is the key word here, since some of the cuts on Mexican Standoff -- and particularly Shocked's vocal performances -- sound willfully eccentric to the point of parody. Singing in wobbly "Spanglish" with overly dramatic phrasing that suggests karaoke night during Happy Hour at Chi-Chi's, Shocked sounds like she's going for some sort of laughs on cuts like "La Cantina el Gato Negro" and "Lonely Planet," but it's hard to say what the point or the focus of the gag is supposed to be, especially since the production and accompaniment sounds sincere enough. By the album's midway point, Shocked appears to grow weary of her mock-Latin persona and shifts gears into a greasy blues-shot groove that she plays straight up, with her band following along and giving as good as they get. One senses that Shocked has some larger point to make with the jumbled Latin and blues influences of Mexican Standoff, but it's difficult to say what it might be, and from a sociological standpoint, this is Michelle Shocked's most puzzling work since Arkansas Traveler, without that album's remarkable level of compensatory musical pleasure. [Mexican Standoff was released on the same day and date as two other albums from Shocked, Don't Ask, Don't Tell and Got No Strings, and the three were also made available as a set called Threesome.]

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