By COLLEEN CREAMER
For Nashville Lifestyles magazine
If a new genre needed to be created for Shawn King, it would be chanteuseabilly.
King is stepping out from under the shadow of her talk show husband Larry King. In the process she will likely surprise the world of Country Music, as both Shawn King and her Country debut album, In My Own back Yard, are pretty stunning. Few could have anticipated the polished voice of the lanky filly Larry had been keeping to himself.
Her voice is like a hearty Allison Krauss crossed with a flicker of Pam Tillis but as though it had been left out in the barn to smoke. The CD is country, but it steps out of the field twice with one blues number and one torch song. However, the entire collection has a definitive feminine sensibility.
To watch Shawn and Larry King together is to become aware of the deficiencies of stereotyping, specifically the one that holds that May/December romances don’t work. She is 26 years younger than her husband, but the relationship is clearly based on love and respect.
Shawn King has been in the business before in various singing and acting gigs and as the host of Hollywood Insider, but a hiatus to raise her two young boys with Larry-Chance and Cannon-has kept her out of the public eye of late. But while the question of where she has been these past couple of years was settled for those around her, no one else had a clue. Larry thinks the public will want to know.
“That’s a good question. It ticks me off,” he says exceptionally droll from a press junket for his wife. Larry King along with Shawn’s dad, former Capitol Records A&R executive, Karl Engemann, have been double-teaming her to put together a Country album for years.
For Shawn, though, the choice back then was simple. “It’s because I wanted to give my life to motherhood. Being around children is a full-time job, but it’s something that has enriched my life and made it so much more full. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The themes on In My Own Back Yard run from finding love to finding oneself and a sense of home to missed opportunities to the power of prayer. Shawn King is spiritual as much as religious, and to be around her is to understand the difference; she is innocent without being guileless.
“I have a very deep faith in God. It’s in the core of me,” she says. “I mean, I didn’t purposely set out to make an album that spoke of that, but in my choice of songs, that’s a part of my everyday life. Prayer is a part of my everyday life.”
In fact, one of the strengths of the CD may be the spiritual cuts “I Pray,” a rich anthem, and “I sail,” a wistful song about the power of following a spiritual path. But it may the album’s title song “In My Own Back Yard,” a country bluegrass number that showcases her voice the best. If the CD errs, some might say it errs on the side of not using her voice on more similarly toned songs.
Nonetheless, Shawn King hopes her timing pays off. She says if Country Music fame happens, she will be grateful. “I think I would handle it OK,” she says. “This is not brand new to me. I had an entertainment news show for almost seven years on USA network. I interviewed everybody who had a movie out, every director, every producer, every star, every music person.”
Larry says the meeting between the two was by chance.
“We bumped into each other,” he recalls.
“-on the street,” his wife adds.
“-across from Tiffany’s, and it’s cost me ever since,” returns Larry.
Not surprisingly Larry King is pleased with the turn in his wife’s career. “I am terribly proud to have played a small part in the way she handles herself,” he said. “I think she’s a terrific singer, and I want her to be star, and in two or three months I’ll get dumped for a drummer who’s 29 years old named Lance.” (Clearly some of the glue in their marriage is laughter, which is epidemic throughout the interview)
When asked about the lengthy process of picking songs, Shawn says it was “torturous.” Eventually, the final say as to which masters to include went to Mike Borchetta of Lofton Creek Records who signed her.
“You know we cut 34 songs, and the other stuff was really hard to part with,” recalls Shawn. “I mean there’s some really, really good stuff just sitting and waiting to come out … I was so close to it, that I just let Mike have final say.”
In the interim, she traveled to Nashville, kids in tow, because she wanted to come to the label with a finished product.
“It was two and half years of going through songs and more songs, because I wanted to bring the kids with me while I was working,” says Shawn. “I think it’s important for kids to see what their parents do when they are going to work. They’ve seen the musicians roll their carts in, the drummers unpack, and they go to CNN and see daddy work, and they have been in Las Vegas and seen me work.”
On the idea that the finished product seems to have dovetailed nicely with the right time in her life, Shawn is thoughtful.
“It’s odd,” she says. “I think when I got into acting, I just let go of the notion that I would ever sing again professionally because I know how hard it is. I know the traveling. I know how hard it is to get on the charts, and I really know the business because my dad, besides being at Capitol [Records], managed Marie Osmond and still manages Marie. So, I followed her journey through Country Music, and I know how tough it is. I mean, man, there’s a lot of singers who don’t get heard.”
Her opening for Larry’s friend, comedian Don Rickles, a 30 minutes set in Las Vegas-a gig she remembers had her shaking before she got onstage-was pivotal.
“She was a smash,” Larry recalls. “And Rickles came onstage and said, ‘Me, I gotta crawl out.’ Then he said to her recently, ‘If this album’s a hit, and you tour, I will open for you.'”
Just after the CD was released last September, the CD’s smokiest number “Blue Dress” was getting airplay in New York City, and it was the first time she’d heard a cut from the album in public.
“We were in Virgin Records in Times Square, and they played it over the sound system, and it was just such a kick to be in New York and hear my song. It was very satisfying because they were playing great music before it and great music after it.”
“In This Room” a mournful tune about the loss of a lover was used anonymously as CNN aired the funeral of former president Ronald Regan.
“Very early on when we were in the early stages of ‘In This Room’ President Regan passed away, and I thought it would be a nice tribute to [the Regans],” Shawn says. “I said, ‘Don’t say it’s me, just put a montage [of the Regans] on,’ so they did and it lit up the lines at CNN. But I didn’t want them to know it was me because it wasn’t about me-It was about Nancy who had become a real dear friend of ours. Their love story was so amazing that I thought that song was appropriate.”
It’s hard to say what the critics will make of Shawn King’s Country Music debut. Unfairly or not, industry connections like hers often serve as red flags for writers looking for an easy route to a story. However, once the CD starts spinning, they’ll get an earful of genuine talent. As it so often is, what the critics don’t get many others might very well understand.