Midway through Michelle Shocked’s live disc ToHeavenURide, she promises—or threatens—the audience with a ride through “the many moods of Michelle Shocked,” but that’s only partly true. Yes, the 13 tracks range from the singer-songwriter’s angriest political screeds to her faithful take on songs culled from well-worn hymnals, but all of the material is imbued with a joyfulness that’s firmly rooted in the church culture of the deep south. While she’s not known as a gospel singer, Shocked—whose folk-punk feminism won her a rabid cult following in the ’90s—proves her mettle in that realm on a slew of well-known faith-based songs that showcase the innate East Texas grit of her voice and the burnished bluesiness of her playing. Shocked wrings plenty of raw passion from her ES-335 on a hypnotic version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s eerie “Strange Things Happening Every Day” and takes the instrument for a dip in the Caribbean on the reggae-tinged original “Can’t Take My Joy.” Fans accustomed to hearing Shocked’s acoustic stylings will no doubt be warmed by the back-porch simplicity of “Psalm” (an original that draws heavily on Bible verse) as well as the uplifting “Uncloudy Day” (long a staple of Willie Nelson’s live sets). ToHeavenURide isn’t entirely given over to otherworldly concerns—she and her band turn in a faithful, fiery version of the Band’s “The Weight”—but the vibe is unfailingly spirited.
To download a free MP3 of Michelle Shocked’s “Quality of Mercy,” click here.