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The Songbirds Vol. 1

August 4th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

I love the current crop of songbirds (a term which might invoke notions of Eva Cassidy, who has been posthumously overrated) better than any of the old crops — including the class of the 1970s. In fact, I can’t even describe myself as a fan of Joni Mitchell; it’s her voice, rather than material, that renders her music unlistenable to me. So here is the first installment of a (possibly fairly extensive) series of contemporary songbirds I love.

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Rickie Lee Jones

It seems right to kick off with an old songbird. Jones has released one of the most fascinating albums of the year, The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard. Candidly, I didn’t enjoy it at first, but was nevertheless intrigued. The sound is very raw (presumably the album was recorded as live), some songs are objectively mediocre, and Jones sounds like she had a case of severe hayfever. The lyrical matter — religious faith — might put some off as well, although it shouldn’t, for Jones explores rather than preaches. The sound might be described as rootsy folk-rock; some tracks seem like inversions of “Sympathy For The Evil”. This is the sort of album one needs to become intimate with — best on an iPod without distraction — to discern moments of excellence, eureka moments.
Rickie Lee Jones – Circle In The Sand.mp3
Rickie Lee Jones – Gethsemane.mp3

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Mindy Smith

Recently I read a review of Mindy Smith in which the clown-with-internet-acess made an unforgivable statement along the lines of: “Mindy Smith could be to the singer-songwriter genre what Norah Jones has been to lounge jazz”. No she can’t, Bozo! Where Norah Jones provides a new definition for coma-inducing blandness, Mindy Smith engages the listener. Bozo presumably meant that Mindy could become the superstar in her genre, attributing to her an accessibility that could be commercially exploited. Mindy’s music certainly is accessible, but not at such a level as to grab the musically disinterested masses who buy their Norah Jones, Travis and Dido CDs at the supermarket, and feel like riding on the syrated edge of the knife when they put on their Coldplay disc. Mindy Smith will not become Norah Jones’ equivalent because there is a depth, a spirit of independence to her lyrics and the music that score these. And thank goodness for that.
Mindy Smith – Out Loud.mp3
Mindy Smith – Long Island Shores.mp3
Mindy Smith – Falling.mp3
Mindy Smith – Angel Dove.mp3

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Michelle Featherstone

Michelle Featherstone’s music has been featured on several TV shows, from Grey’s Anatomy to One Tree Hill, yet I could not find her on amazon.com, and information on Featherstone is sketchy beyond her website. It seems the album is available only on iTunes. I find that puzzling, for here is somebody with immense talent. The haunting “Falling” from a couple of years ago is what Dido could sound like if she had the ambition to actually be interesting: a bit like the wonderful Mazzy Star (death threats for mentioning the great Hope Sandoval in the same thought as boring old Dido to the usual address, please).

I fully expect “Rest Of My Life” (on Featherstone’s new album, “Fallen Down”) to play when McDreamy eventually settles down with an uncertain Meredith, at which point it will be a hugely sought-after track. It deserves to be hugely sought-after now.
Michelle Featherstone – Rest of My Life.mp3
Michelle Featherstone – Falling.mp3

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Missy Higgins

Huge in her native Australia, Missy Higgins is just delightful with her Aussie wicketkeeper’s twang. Higgins (Missy is a diminutive of her first name, Melissa) has a great line in outstanding lyrics and appealing melodies. The debut album, The Sound Of White, was lyrically a bit downbeat, with themes of death (on the stunning title track she sings to her sister, who died in a car crash), depression and what appears to be a story about child murder. The new set, On A Clear Night (two tracks of which below), has its morose moments, but is a more affirming album. Lead single “Steer” could become an anthem for every newly divorced woman who feels she is taking charge of her life.
Missy Higgins – Where I Stood.mp3
Missy Higgins – Steer.mp3
Missy Higgins – The Wrong Girl.mp3
Missy Higgins – The Sound Of White.mp3

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A Fine Frenzy

Currently supporting Rufus Wainwright on his US tour, and previously the wonderful Brandi Carlile (to be featured soon), A Fine Frenzy is 21-year-old Alison Sudol. Her debut album, One Cell In The Sea, marks her out as a massive talent. Just a couple of fewer songs shorter, and One Cell… could be a strong contender for the songbird album of the year (which right now seems like a mammoth battle between Rosie Thomas and Brandi Carlile). Visit The Late Greats blog for two more songs, including the excellent and very sad lead single “Almost Lover” (video here).
A Fine Frenzy – Whisper.mp3
A Fine Frenzy – Liar Liar.mp3

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