Songs:Ohia – “Being In Love” (2000)
“Being In Love” takes the teenage romanticism (or dramatism, if you prefer) of love best exemplified by The Cure’s ‘Disintegration,’ and transports it to a simple guitar, organ, melodica and Casio-solid electronic rhythm section singer-songwriter presentation. I know that might not sound like a recipe for sure-fire success; but this is romanticism that feels honest, the plaintive earnestness earned, and it has the good fortune of being well-matched musically. I’m not the same love-lorn fellow I was at age 20 when I mix-taped this track for a girl (or two), but it overcomes my tendency toward emotional demystification of my own past, and still hits home.
“Bob” Darin – “The Harvest” (1969)
Walden Robert Cassatto briefly emerged from his better-known persona, Bobby Darin, to create a couple (very) surprisingly great singer-songwriter-rock-funk albums in the late 60s. I guess it could’ve been a cash-in on the rising hippie tide, but to my mind the risks of alienating his established crooner audience for the ears of (most likely highly skeptical) kids doesn’t seem to make a lot of financial sense. Especially when it turns out the music is pretty great, and the politics are pretty pronouncedly progressive–it seems sincere to me. In any case, the resulting music is sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, and always enjoyable, as on this rollicking, jumpy track that warns of the hubris of man and the folly of power with a series of clever couplets. [The funky feeling of this track is found throughout this mix that features Mr. Darin at Musicophilia.]
Duncan Browne – “Journey” (1973)
Browne’s first album is a lovely little record that calls to mind Donovan, Nick Drake, and that misty pastoral folk revival feeling. But on his second, self-titled LP from 1973, slightly less expected elements begin to filter into the strongly-composed singer-songwriter material–don’t let the petroleum-jelly-on-the-lense cover photo deter you. The sophisticated guitar work, hand-claps, percussion, bubbling synth lines and choral coloration on “Journey” provide a good introduction to a wonderful and underrated album. [Duncan Browne is featured in this ‘Le Tour du Monde‘ mix at Musicophilia.]
Karen Dalton – “Katie Cruel” (1971)
For me, Karen Dalton is at her best when she’s at her most spare, and this might be my favorite: jittery banjo, bittersweet voice, and aching fiddle, knitting a tale of loss and regret. This is where she transcends “folk revival” or “singer-songwriter” (or “Billie Holiday of folk music” comparisons) and simply creates pure American music, out of time, beyond any single persona. [Karen Dalton is featured in a wide-ranging ‘Le Tour du Monde’ mix at Musicophilia.]
Arthur Russell – “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face” (1974)
Anybody who’s followed Musicophilia for long knows Arthur Russell is one of very few I’d go so far as to call a “musical hero,” as he’s featured on at least half a dozen Musicophilia mixes and two Daily posts so far. But loving Arthur’s music is a little different than loving that of most artists: no two albums, whether released in his lifetime or culled posthumously, under his name or via one of a dozen groups or pseudonyms, is necessarily alike, though there’s always something indelibly Arthur about anything he touched.
He puts Janus to shame; his permutations were seemingly endless: avant-gardener, disco impresario, cello-and-vocals dub hero–there really aren’t adequate labels, as these clumsy attempts illustrate. ‘Love is Overtaking Me,’ released on Audika Records last year, revealed yet another side or three: singer-songwriter, modern loving rocker, high-country cowboy-poet, blue-eyed soul crooner. This very early, simple song reveals a touch of all of these, and representative of the under-appreciated compendium as a whole, captures some of his strongest and most accessible melodies via plaintive piano, Hammond organ, brass touches and above all Arthur’s resonant vocals.
Joni Mitchell – “California” (Live, BBC, 1970)
Singer-songwriter is for me like prog, metal, ska-revival, punk: a whole lot of utter detritus, pierced by moments of absolute brilliance. For me, Joni Mitchell is the absolute pinnacle–‘Blue’ was one of the first albums I ever identified as a “favorite” as a small child (my mother would sing us Joni songs and play her guitar, her hippie youth waning but still vibrant, as lullabies). And it remains a top-10 album, a quarter-century later. Her voice aged well, in my opinion, and at this point I find later albums more “interesting,” and beautiful in their own ways–but ‘Blue’ is a solitary achievement, and it still makes my heart ache in a wonderful way however many hundreds of listens on. Plus, I just love that dulcimer sound.
Karla Schickele – “Room For Me” (2001)
Karla Schickele (of Beekeeper, Ida, and K.) is one of the few singer-songwriter voices of the 90s/00s who’s stuck with me (along with Low). She works in many ways within the paradigm, focusing on piano, spare banjo or guitar, small percussion instruments; but there’s always a quality to her music I can’t quite pin down that is anything but the sort of softness one expects from this music. There’s an angularity, a geometric quality, a vivacious intellectual quality to her musical concepts that is subtle (especially on this track, from a self-released ‘Overnight’ EP) but comes through with repeated listens, especially on her piano-based tracks. Small repeated pieces fit together in her music like tiny living clockwork. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with being “pretty” when it’s this well done.