Musical styles come and go but no matter what year it is, there are always new singer/songwriters baring their souls and - if they are good at their job - ours too, opines CBS Sunday Morning contributor Bill Flanagan.
Sometimes they are in style think of Joan Baez in the sixties, Cat Stevens in the 70s, Tracy Chapman in the 80s or Sarah Mclachlan, Jewel, and all those Liliths in the 90s. But even when they are not especially in fashion like now they are always there. It's just harder to hear them.
Jenny Lewis usually plays with the band Rilo Kiley. Her first solo record is called "Rabbit Fur Coat," and it just gets better every time you hear it. In an era when it's hip to be obscure and avoid eye contact, this music is confident and declarative. Jenny Lewis writes like someone you¹d really like to know. You listen to these songs and you think, Did that really happen? Who is this woman? Tell me more.
James Taylor called some of his work "hymns for agnostics" and "Rabbit Fur Coat" has that sense of looking for spiritual comfort in a world where God is silent. Jenny Lewis has made a roots record for modern life.
Mason Jennings lives in Minnesota that mysterious land that gave us Dylan, Prince, the Replacements and other eccentric giants. There must be something in the snow up there. On his new album "Boneclouds," Jennings plays warm, home-made sounding songs with a real ramshackle charm. The rock tunes have a looseness that might remind you of Paul McCartney¹s first solo album, and when he sings with just an acoustic guitar, Jennings recalls old Bill Withers or Jim Croce records just a guy with a few chords and a battered voice telling you the truth about love, kids, death real life. I don¹t know much about Mason Jennings, but I believe him when he sings and in a market-tested, call-out-researched, pitch-corrected world, unpolished truth is a rare commodity.
Speaking of which...
Beth Orton is a British songwriter with a beautiful voice and a unique perspective. She appeared in the mid nineties with a couple of very strong albums that married folk to electronic beats and backing. On her new CD "Comfort Of Strangers," she strips the arrangements back to acoustic guitar, bass, drums and piano and the power of her singing and songwriting stands out even more for being presented so clearly. Somehow Orton manages to be earthy and ethereal at the same time - like Carole King crossed with Fairport Convention. The CD is called " Comfort Of Strangers " and it will take you to a better place.
But perhaps you want something a little more upbeat - something that will make you feel the way the great folk rock singles by the Byrds and the Lovin Spoonful used to make you feel. In that case, grab "The Believer" by Rhett Miller. I know we live in a hip hop world but if there were justice among radio programmers every song on this CD would be a hit.
A woman I work with said, "Oh, I love Rhett Miller, he reminds me of Jackson Browne!" I said, Gee, he doesn¹t sound to me like Jackson as much as Tom Petty - and she looked at me like I was an idiot and she said, "I don't mean he sounds like Jackson Browne. He's as handsome as Jackson Browne."
These attributes go right by me.
Obviously this guy has it all great voice, great hooks, irresistible melodies and girls, he¹s good-looking. Go get "The Believer" by Rhett Miller it will make that big SUV you drive feel like an old Mustang convertible.The Music Of Our Souls