For artists and their representatives, the question is, “Would my music fit on your blog?” Ultimately, the not very helpful answer is, “Yes, if I like it.” Beyond that, I suppose I could offer up a list of musical genres I like. But some of my favorite music doesn’t neatly fit in existing categories. I like artists who are adventurous, who chafe at musical boundaries. And I like artists who, within accepted boundaries, do the unexpected. My only requirement in such cases is that it must all serve the song. Let me give you some examples.
The Winterlings: The Postman
For The Winterlings, folk music is just a starting point. They are the duo of Wolff Bowden and Amanda Birdsall. Both play guitar, and they play six other instruments between them on the album The Animal Groom. There are additional musicians who further expand the musical pallette. The result is an album of richly varied arrangements. Bowden sings in a folk tenor, while Birdsall presents a bluesy country soprano. Their voices shouldn’t blend, but they do. The pair cowrote all of the songs here, and they are rich in nature imagery, especially about the weather. Many of the songs come from a dark place, but also a very rich one. The album art is by Wolff Bowden, and like the music, it is the work of an artist whose goes where the muse wishes to take him. The result is dreamlike at times, and endlessly fascinating.
Tin Pan: Dandelion
For this band’s purposes, the term Tin Pan Alley refers to an area in New York City that had a high concentration of music publishers from roughly 1900 through the end of The Depression. More broadly, the term refers to the music that was made there. This was the popular songs of the day. Some of those are on the album Hound’s Tooth by the band Tin Pan. And alongside them are original songs by bandleader Jesse Selengut that fit right in.
Selengut plays trumpet, flugelhorn, and guitar, and handles lead vocals. Stefan Zeniuk plays tenor sax and clarinet, another member plays all manner of guitars, and the lineup is completed by the bass player. There is no drummer. Selengut’s vocals have a rough quality that gives this music a bluesy quality. Overall, this has the quality of street music, coarse but undeniably powerful. And I don’t mean to suggest any lack of talent; quite the opposite is true. This is a band that achieves its affects with great skill, and with a subtlety that belies the listener’s first impression. This is one that I am sure will reward repeated listening.
Guthrie Kennard: God of Abraham
Guthrie Kennard comes under the Americana category, on the bluesy side. The album Matchbox was produced by Ray Wylie Hubbard, and it’s easy to see why he took an interest. Kennard has a voice like a rusty knife, and he writes and sings haunted tales of the heartland. The arrangements are spare, but all of the feeling comes through. And Kennard creates grooves that will stay in your head for a while.
Rachelle Garniez: Blue Blue Grass of Home
I found Rachelle Garniez when I reviewed jazz singer Catherine Russell’s latest album. But that didn’t prepare me for Garniez’ work under her own name. If you must have a category, call this post-cabaret. Garniez sings in mostly in a rich alto, but she can interject bursts of almost operatic soprano at times. She has a playful side in the way she does this. There are only three musicians on the album, but they play multiple instruments, so the texture is rich and varied. Usually, the featured instrument is Garniez’ piano. The songs feature characters who exist outside of society’s norms. These characters don’t seem dangerous, just odd. Garniez likes them, and she gets the listener to do the same. If Garniez and Tom Waits ever got together to perform each other’s songs, I would love to be there. I can think of very few artists that I would put on that stage, but Garniez shows here that she could more than hold her own.
Lisa Engelken: Caravan
Lisa Engelken is another of those fine jazz singers I keep getting lucky to find. And there is no question that she stays well within that musical category. But she still shows a wonderful musical imagination. She takes Billy Idol’s White Wedding, and turns it into a beautiful jazz ballad, and it works. What she does with Duke Ellington’s song Caravan is more subtle, but just as impressive. Ellington’s original version featured a strong exotic beat and the rich harmonies for which he was known. Most covers of the song retain these qualities, but Engelken strips the song down. The rhythm is only suggested, and most of the richness of Ellington’s original charts is gone. This spare arrangement means that Engelken has no place to hide, and her singing must carry the day. She is more than up to the task. Her voice is a smooth purr, but she can express a full range of emotions with it. On the album, she also shows a gift for scat singing. Engelken may be clearly a jazz singer, but she is still not afraid to take chances, and she makes them pay off.