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Shawn Colvin serves a 'master class' in songwriting and guitar playing

Shawn Colvin is joining the growing list of musical elders trotting out anniversary concerts, offering a song-for-song acoustic replay of her 1989 Grammy-winning debut, “Steady On” at Nashville’s City Winery Thursday.

When old friend and Music City legend Buddy Miller joined her onstage for an encore, he could have been speaking for everyone as we stood and applauded.

“We’ve just witnessed a master class in songwriting AND guitar playing,” Miller said.

We also saw an artist who was happy not just to take herself back to the early days of her career, when she wrote the songs, but to have a little fun with the earnest young artist that she was.

“Here’s one you can dance to,” she said. Then, with a smile after a beat: “No you can’t. I defy you to dance to any of these songs.”

We had the benefit of enjoying the songs somewhat anew, as my wife and I ‘discovered’ Colvin through her 1994 “Cover Girl” album. We listened to it over and over as we planned our wedding and worked on the first house we bought together.

When she won a grammy double in 1998 - Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “Sunny Came Home” - we felt like we were old fans. But somehow we never wandered back to “Steady On," which took the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. So while many in the crowd cheered when they heard the first few notes of an old favorite - something that happened with every song - we experienced them anew, and were captivated.

Colvin’s voice is still as strong as ever at 66. But what also emerged was her virtuosity on the acoustic guitar. While many singer-songwriters are solid chord strummers, Colvin plays with the complexity and percussiveness of, say, Joni Mitchell or Stephen Stills.

This wasn’t clear (to me, at least), in her recordings, which were generally with a band. But in Thursdays show, she managed a rich, layered sound while standing alone with an acoustic guitar.

She also had another treat for the crowd. As Buddy Miller finished his encore and walked off the stage, the crowd jumped to our feet as Emmylou Harris, with her unmistakable flowing gray mane, joined her for two songs.

Colvin lived in Nashville briefly early in her career, and said she always likes to invite her “Nashville people” to join her onstage here.

We didn’t mind.

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