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Since being discovered at age 24 in front of a Texas campfire in 1986, singer-songwriter and activist Michelle Shocked has voiced her political opinions through a variety of musical styles, including bluegrass, swing, and rock. In Kind Hearted Woman (Private Music, 1996), Shocked's first album in four years, she returns to her folk roots with a set of mellow storysongs about life in rural America.

Mother Jones asked Shocked what she's been reading and listening to lately. Here's what she had to say about Odelay (Geffen Records, 1996), the latest release from underground folk/hip-hop boy-man Beck.

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"I thought the art direction on the cover was too art-directed. The Dust Brothers production was too hip by half, and I was admittedly a little envious of how the whole thing was pulled off with that Geffen flair, but when you take it all down to the sound, the CD is a deep, sonic, poetic, cool collage."

Also recommended by Shocked:

The Holy Bible. "I'm not committed to a scholarly approach," says Shocked. "But I'll tell you it works pretty good in an I Ching sort of fashion. Flip it open to any page and carry a thought for the day, which will become more lucid as the day's events unfold."

The horrors of World War II descend on the peaceful Greek island of Cephalonia in Louis de Berniéres' historical novel Corelli's Mandolin (New York: Vintage Books, 1994). Mixing satire and lyricism, the book manages to capture the worst and best of human capacity in one breath. "It's just a really amazing way to put yourself in that place and time," says Shocked. "It makes you laugh, and on the very next page you'll sob."

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