The last couple of months have been quite challenging, as well as cold and dark, so I’ve been looking for music to accompany cups of tea and introspection.
I love Joan Baez’s Gone from Danger (1997). All except one of the songs were written by younger artists (Dar Williams, Sinead Lohan) and Baez brings a rich maturity to the material. As you’d expect, there’s a political undercurrent, with songs about immigration, child abuse and environmental issues, but it’s all comforting somehow. The collector’s edition features a live bonus CD of performances in which Baez is joined by some of the songwriters.
I’ve never really been into Dar Williams. This may be a British thing, but the extreme earnestness of her lyrics makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. However, I’m getting beyond that and Promised Land (2008) is growing on me. Apparently this is one of her more poppy albums and frowned on by some fans of her earlier, more acoustic sound. I have no opinion on that at this time.
One of my absolute favourite discoveries this winter has been Cold Specks’s album I Predict a Graceful Expulsion (2012). The sound is kind of difficult to describe. She calls it “doom soul”. It’s a folk, gothic, gospel vibe, kind of like Odetta crossed with Nick Cave and The Handsome Family. I’ve been listening to ‘Winter Solstice’, ‘Holland’ and ‘Send Your Youth’ on repeat.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Feist again: Let it Die (2004), The Reminder (2007) and Metals (2011). I wouldn’t have called myself a fan, but she seems to have crept up on me. I think Metals is my favourite. There’s something elemental about it.
Andy bought Mariee Sioux’s first album, Faces in the Rocks (2007), which has been re-released since Sioux managed to buy back the rights. It’s lovely for a winter evening. Her acoustic sound is incredibly delicate and ethereal, just Sioux on her guitar, accompanied by a Native American flute and a mandolin. Well worth a listen if you like Nick Drake and Joanna Newsom.
Laura Veirs’s Warp and Weft (2013) is excellent. It features her characteristic tuneful folk songs and some rockier numbers. The main theme of the album is the joys and fears of motherhood. Some fans seem to be ambivalent about the more electric sound, but I like to hear her doing something a bit different. Neko Case, K.D. Lang and others appear as guests.
Sharon Van Ettan’s Are We There (2014) is awesome. I loved Tramp, but this is better. It’s a disturbingly intense personal album about a relationship going bad which should be up there with great heartbreak albums like Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No 2.
On a more cheerful note, Laura Mvula is a really exciting British singer-songwriter, influenced by jazz, gospel and soul, but with a sound all her own. I love her arrangements on Sing to the Moon (2013). The song ‘That’s Alright’ has been my go to cheer-up track recently.
Thea Gilmore just keeps putting out quality albums without getting that much attention. I think she’s one of our best British singer-songwriters and I got her latest album, Regardless (2013), for my birthday. I don’t think I like it as much as Murphy’s Heart and Liejacker, but it’s very good and is one of her more upbeat works. ‘Something to Sing About’,’ Love Came Looking for Me’ and ‘Regardless’ are all great songs.
Also in British folk, I’ve been enjoying Laura Marling’s I Speak Because I Can (2010) and have just started listening to The Staves’s Dead and Born and Grown (2012). The harmonies are gorgeous and I can see this band becoming a favourite.
The one album that doesn’t really fit with the rest has been Moby’s Innocents (2013). I picked this up mainly because it features other artists I like, such as Mark Lanegan and Cold Specks. My favourite songs are the two collaborations with Cold Specks, ‘Tell Me’ and the superb ‘A Case for Shame’. Otherwise it sounds like, well, a Moby album and is nice to listen to.
And bubbling around the edges, we had Emmylou Harris, Melissa Laveaux and Mary Gauthier.
Joan Baez, Lily
Laura Veirs, Sun Song (with Neko Case)
Laura Mvula, That’s Alright (fantastic video too)
Sharon Van Ettan, I Know (The way this builds)
Cold Specks, Send Your Youth
Mariee Sioux, Buried in Teeth
Melissa Laveaux, Move On
Feist, Caught a long wind
The Staves, Wisely and Slow
Laura Marling, Devil’s Spoke
Thea Gilmore, Cold Coming (bonus track)
Emmylou Harris, The Road
Dar Williams, The Tide Falls Away
Moby and Cold Specks, A Case for Shame
Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now