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The Age of the Singer-Songwriter

Updated on August 22, 2012
Ray LaMontagne
Ray LaMontagne | Source

Ever said "ouch, that song was my life!" You're in the right place.

We are in a marvelous age in music, in spite of the onslaught of 'songs' that can only be considered words set to an epileptic beat. We are in the age of the everyman, the youtube cover video, the shower-singer-turned-ukulele-plucker. We are in the age of the Singer-Songwriter. Until recently, the humble Singer-Songwriter was stuck in the folk, alternative, light rock, blues, or even pop genres, in spite of the fact that he deserves his own class.

The popular music application Spotify launched this year, to mixed reviews, but they presented me with something I had never seen before: a Singer-Songwriter radio station. At its infant stage, this station really only included tracks from Damien Rice's incredible (albeit angsty) album 'O', Icelandic and upper-Scandanavian bands like Sigur Ros, and one-man-bands with names like Bon Iver and Bright Eyes. If you're an anti-hipster like myself, you've heard of these wonderful bands, but they aren't incredibly popular or "mainstream." At least, not until now.

A singer-songwriter (S-S for our purposes) is a person who writes and sings their own songs. Duh, you think to yourself and almost stop reading because of the ignorance of the author. Wait! Today's S-S is that and more. Most bands considered in this category are acoustically driven or mostly so, with lyrics typically deeper than most other mainstream music. If I throw out the name Adele, 90% of you will know of the silver-tongued songstress, and she is a primo example of the S-S. Though Adele did a heartbreaking cover of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love", her first two CDs have been original, and surprisingly autobiographical. The S-S typically has something to say about themselves, a vulnerability that they reveal to their audience.

The 2006 film Once centers on a busker (Irish for S-S... just kidding. A busker is a street performer, but the titles are synonymous here). Still heart-shattered by the loss of his lady love, the busker and vacuum salesman falls in like with a young polish mother with a talent for tickling the ivories and singing haunting backing harmonies. This movie-musical is an ode to the Singer-Songwriter, assaulting the ears of the audience with throat lump-inducing ballads like "If You Want Me" and the Oscar-Winning anthem of the film, "Falling Slowly", while simultaneously punching us in the gut with the one-sided break-up bash, "Say It To Me Now". Every song in the film is contextual and autobiographical in a way that previous musicals fall short. The film's composer and star Glen Hansard lays all the cards on the table and tells a story which, thanks to the music, might just be yours. This is what the S-S does best: giving you a snapshot of yourself, down to the bone.

The S-S movement has allowed YouTube sensations to find recognition in the music industry and garner recognition where they might not have before because of the cut-throat competition out there. Singer-Songwriters seem to be a largely diverse group of people who aren't threatened by other S-S's, and therefore the more the merrier!

Singer-Songwriter love songs are in a class all their own. While Pop and Rock love songs typically skim the surface of the emotion, S-S love songs dig under the skin and poke at the heart with memories and feelings that overwhelm, for the better and for the worse. Norah Jones, an early pioneer for the S-S movement, is the mistress of love songs. Some how, her smoky ballad "Come Away With Me" has an intimacy of a whisper in confidence. Ray LaMontagne (who my Mother thought was a woman the first time she heard him on the radio) bears his soul in the sweetly real "Let it Be Me". It's not the piano accompaniment or mere vocal emotion that makes a performer a Singer-Songwriter, it is the depth of feeling portrayed in the lyrics and musical arrangement.

I wouldn't be a truly worthy blogger if I didn't include a list of my favorite current S-S's (and who knows if I will be even then). In no particular order: James Morrison, The Gabe Dixon Band, Ryan Adams, Regina Spektor, Clem Snide, Glass Pear, The Civil Wars, Damien Rice, Ray LaMontagne, Glen Hansard, Bon Iver, The Weepies, Ingrid Michaelson, Iron and Wine, Jason Mraz (check out his newest love song "I Won't Give Up" and just bask in the glow of it's sweetness), Peter Bradley Adams, Katie Thompson, Andrew Belle, Ben Folds, Emiliana Torrini, Jose Gonzales, Sufjan Stevens, Bright Eyes, Rosie Thomas. There are so many more to discover!

Oh and I wouldn't be a good S-S fan if I didn't promote the INCREDIBLE Denver band The Query, made up of Sam Golden, Jonathan Herring, and Emily Kitchen. They also all happen to be quite good-looking and they do weddings. Check 'em out!


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    • MyGirlThursday profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate Herrell 

      6 years ago from Denver, CO

      Thank you for the suggestions! I love Joanna Newsome as well, she is wonderful.

    • Peter Allison profile image

      Peter Allison 

      6 years ago from Alameda, CA

      Good Hub and nice suggestions. You should check out Bill Callahan (who also goes by the name Smog), and of course Bonnie Price Billy - AKA Will Oldham of Palace Brothers fame. If you are looking for a really unique wordsmith, check out Joanna Newsome - who gets a lot of notice for her voice and the fact that her primary instrument is a harp - but the really amazing thing about her is her lyrics (OK her arrangements are amazing too).


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