Let me start this Easter blog with a confession: Lyrics are rarely making much of a difference when choosing music. Yes, I accept the value of lyrics and that these are an integral part of the total musical picture, but the sound, the atmosphere, the voices, the instrumentation are more important to me.
So, to repent, today I have added some artists that really prove me wrong. Here are some tracks where the lyrics are equally important as the rest of the building blocks making up great music.
Robert Ellis has a voice that at times turns me off, and his music is too often taking me into traditional CW land. But this man knows how to tell a story, and I have added six stories for you to enjoy. Ellis is from Texas, and went from bar performer to feted artist from one day to another when American Songwriter’s Magazine named him one of the top songwriters of the year in 2011. His latest album is called The Lights From the Chemical Plant and for country aficionados it must be nothing less than brilliant. For the less orthodox of us, it is still very good, primarily for the cleverness of the stories he is spinning. And it doesn’t hurt that he is covering well Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years….
Irish singer Mary Coughlan knows how to tell a good musical yarn, too. I have been a fan of her for many years, and is really pleased with her newly released album After the Fall. Six of the 13 songs are now in the bloglist. Some of the songs are taking on the form of small theatrical plays, but then Coughlan can sometimes turn a bit too theatrical. However, she does draw attention to the words in a way that few other artists do.
The Handsome Family
The TV series True Detective put the limelight on a CW band based in Albuquerque, The Handsome Family, basically a duo made up of married couple Brett and Rennie Sparks. The opening title, Far From Any Road, was picked by T-Bone Burnett, who produced all music for the series. It is really an old recording, but The Handsome Family released a new album, Wilderness, last year, and I have added a couple of songs from it, together with the title track every drama aficionado has fallen in love with this year. The lyrics of the ballads are all like short TV scripts, so listen up, perhaps you get why T-Bone picked this band to create the eeriness of True Detective.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Tribute
On to one of the greatest storytellers in rock music, Bernie Taupin. Together with Elton John he created one of the best albums of all time, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The collection was re-released this year, re-mastered, and a number of contemporary artists have performed their versions of some of the tracks. The cover versions are de facto not as great as the originals, but Zac Brown Band, Imelda May, Emili Sandé, John Grant, The Band Perry and Ed Sheeran all do decent and creative versions. At least it brings renewed attention to the album, so go back to original whatever you feel about the copies.
Welch singer-songwriter Peter Bruntnell is new to me, but he has been performing and recording since the mid-90s,. He just released a retrospective album called – of course – Retrospective, and I have picked three of his Americana-sounding tracks from there, and look forward to listening to his back catalogue. I would guess Peter has listened a bit to Eagles, both his singing style and the genre remind me of Hotel California times.
John Newman is a young man with no such back catalogue, but his songs are so heavily inspired by the music he grew up listening to from Motown, that he simply called his album Tribute. John performed his smash hit Love Me Again on the weekly show I am channel executive producer for, Skavlan, (picture above) and our audience loved it. Here are a few of his other great soul tracks from his top-selling album. Mark my words: This is the beginning of a great career.
Amy Stroup is also into retro pop, albeit of a slightly different nature. She had made music for a lot of TV series like Grey’s Anatomy, but has now released an album without any such connections. Amy is originally from Boston, but is now living in Nashville, and there is a certain new country feel to some of the tracks of Tunnel. This is sweet, uncomplicated music, perfect for Spring nights and as a prelude to Summer.
Sticking with lushness, let’s move on to an old favourite, Goldfrapp. The duo has released an album, Tales of Us, in which most songs are names after friends of theirs. Alison Goldfrapp’s soothing, whispering voice is never better than here, and Will Greogry’s orchestrations are mature and rich. The group has been around since 1981, so if you like this, spend some time on all the great stuff they have released before. You won’t be disappointed.
Bohren & Der Club of Gore
From England to Germany and to a jazz group, Bohren & Der Club of Gore. This all-instrumental group is really not everyone’s cup of tea, but if it is soothing you are looking for, you will be hard pressed to find something more blood pressure lowering than their latest album, Piano Nights. I find it wonderfully rich and surprising in its entire stripped down sound picture.
The Family Crest
At the other end of the scale (don’t complain of the lack of variety in my blog list!) is wonderfully pompous Family Crest from San Francisco, fronted by Liam McCormick with a voice from another world. Comparisons with Freddie Mercury are unfair to both, but I think you know what I mean when you listen his complete lack of moderation and to the symphonic sound of this great band.
Simone Felice is only 38 but has fought with death and illness twice in his life already. He is a remarkably talented artist, both a musician and fiction writer, with success in both. He suffered a brain aneurism at the age of twelve, and a few years ago had to go back into hospital with a serious heart disease. He is now well recovered, and has released two solo albums, following albums recorded with his brother as Felice Brothers. His latest, Strangers, is a great album with some momentous songs, full of pathos and great song writing.
I Was a King
We close today’s blog list with Norwegian indie band I Was a King, out with a new album, Isle of Yours. (The picture above is actually shot in our meeting room at NRK) . The list of previous band members are considerably longer than present members, but holding the band together throughout has been Frode Strømstad, so the sound hasn’t changed much since their debut album in 2007. Today the band is one of Norway’s best selling groups abroad as well as at home. I like the contribution of vocalist Anne Lise Frøkedal, she is definitely adding distinctness to the sound of I Was a King, no more distinct than on One of Us, their very best track ever in my opinion.
I am removing The Avett Brothers, Beranek, Cass McCombs, The Head and the Heart, Howe Gelb, Lucy Wainwright, Mogwai, Mutual Benefit, Paul McCartney, Sabastien Tellier, The Silver Seas and Woman’s Hour. They have served us well since December. Come back soon.
Here is the updated list: