Probably, the first songs that were sung by humans were chants and ritual music, asking the gods for their favor. But it can not have been long after that mankind began to tell stories in song. Some were myths, tales of gods and goddesses, while others told of success or failure in the hunt, or in love. By the time of the ancient Celts, the bards were said to have the power to curse or bless with their songs. Their stories could transport the listeners to another world for the length of the song, and some never returned. Today, there are still fine storytellers among our songwriters. Let’s hear some.
Lauren Shera: Storyteller
First I will let Lauren Shera give us an introduction. Her song Storyteller doesn’t really tell a story itself, but it is all about the power of story. She a wants a potential lover who can transport her to another world with his tales. As she works through this idea, she realizes that the term “story” for her means fiction. She ends up lamenting that these tales are not true. Even so, the song beautifully presents the power of storytelling in a context that I have not seen before, and it really works.
77 El Deora: Radio City
The first thing many story writers do is set the scene. Maurice Tani does this beautifully in Radio City. I can see the parking lot outside the radio station as I listen, and I just about see the DJ’s face. It takes a little while for the plot of the story to come out. This is a tale of heartbreak, and the narrator is hesitant to tell it. He seems to feel that saying it aloud gives it power, and yet, it is a tale he must tell. This narrative device makes the song all the more powerful.
Tani and Jenn Courtney roughly split the lead vocals on this album. She has the more expressive voice, but he knows how to use what he has to good effect, so the vocals work throughout. The Crown & The Crow’s Confession is a mix of ballads and rockers, all rendered beautifully. Tani is the main songwriter, and a fine one.
David Serby: Evil Men
David Serby sings the stories of forgotten men and women. His characters sometimes do things that we as listeners can not condone, but Serby always presents them with their dignity. In Evil Men, we meet a man whose crimes have earned him a death sentence, and yet Serby makes sure that we care about him. Elsewhere, we meet factory workers who have good cause to want to unionize, a poor young woman who must give up a child she can not afford to raise, and outlaws and gold diggers from the old West. Serby makes the listener feel that the know all of these people and more, and we care about their stories.
Kevin Brown: Medicine Bow
Kevin Brown’s songs are earthy but magical tales. There is no contradiction there. Listening to his songs, you get grit in the soles of your boots, and you see marvels, visions which can inspire amazement or fear. Medicine Bow concerns the white buffalo, and the Native Americans who knew them best. The story is powerfully told. Some of the other songs here do not tell stories, but simply set a mood. Brown also does this beautifully.
Danaher & Cloud: The Train to Baltimore
Imagine that you are visiting an elderly relative, a grandfather perhaps. He has accidentally on purpose left out an old photo album where you will see it. As you leaf through the sepia-toned, faded photographs, at first you see just pictures of strangers. But your grandfather sees stories, and soon enough he begins to tell them. They have the bittersweet quality of times past, never to be seen again, but there is also love, and an innocent quality. Portraits, the album by Danaher & Cloud, has something of that flavor to it. Each song tells a different tale, and the music reflects this. One tale might have a jazzy feel, while another might recall old Irish legends. All are told with great warmth. The Train to Baltimore gets a wonderful folk arrangement. This is a love story, the kind that has a happy ending. This kind of sweetly romantic tale is one that many artists today can not pull off without cynicism creeping in. Danaher & Cloud play it straight, and make the story utterly convincing.