Saturday, January 15, 2011

Voices of Women

I have a nice problem. I receive too much great music. Sometimes, unfortunately, that means that I set aside an incredible album, and it winds up in the stack. So this week, I decided to get into the stack, and feature some artists who have waited longer than I ever intended. It happened that they all have two things in common: all are female singers or groups fronted by female singers, and the singers are all amazing. They are working in very different styles, and showing that there are many ways to sing incredibly. Put another way, there are many ways to put over the emotion of a song.

Patty Carpenter, Melissa Shetler, and the Dysfunctional Family Jazz Band: Angel From Montgomery


So here are Patty Carpenter, Melissa Shetler, and the Dysfunctional Family Jazz Band. Look closely at the album cover, and you will also see Scott Shetler’s name. This is easily the most unwieldy band name I’ve ever seen. Nowadays, they record as the Dysfunctional Family Jazz Band, and they have broadened their sound. But this set, from 2002, is a fairly straight ahead jazz set. Then again, Angel From Montgomery is the song you think it is, and probably the only time there has been a jazz cover of John Prine. These folks make it work. Patty Carpenter and Melissa Shetler trade lines seamlessly, and blend beautifully on the chorus. Female jazz singers are often either sweet and flirty, or smoky and seductive. Here, we got one of each, and it really works. The arrangement reminds me of Cannonball Adderley’s Mercy Mercy Mercy; I never would have thought of doing that with this song, but it too works beautifully.

Madison Violet: The Woodshop

[purchase here, prices in Canadian dollars]

Madison Violet is the Canadian duo of Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac. MacEachern handles lead vocals and plays several varieties of guitar. MacIsaac sings background vocals and plays guitar and fiddle. They deliver folk vocals at their best. The Woodshop is an original song in which a young man dies before his time. The song is not very concerned with how he died. Instead, the focus is on how each of the family members left behind deal with the tragedy. The spotlight shines briefly on each of them in turn, but the song says everything it needs to about each of them. This is a tremendous piece of songwriting, and the vocals of MacEachern and MacIsaac seal the deal.

Jenee Halstead: Darkest Day


Jenee Halstead sings in a voice that is perfect for the borderland between folk and country. I could easily imagine her harmonizing with Emmylou Harris, (if that ever happens, I hope someone will make sure to let me know). Darkest Day also reveals her to be a fine story teller. Here too, we have the death of a young man before his time. Halstead’s vocal perfectly captures the aching emotion of this. Compare it to the Madison Violet song above, and you will find two very different ways of performing the same emotion.

Debra Cowan: Lili Marlene Walks Away


Dave Mattacks is a big name in British folk-rock. He was in the original line-up of Fairport Convention, worked extensively with The Incredible String Band and Richard Thompson, and later worked with Steeleye Span and even Jethro Tull. So it says a lot that he was willing to produce Debra Cowan’s latest album. Cowan is the owner of one of those great Celtic/ British folk voices. What is surprising is that she does the British and Celtic styles equally well. She does a wonderful job of setting the dark mood that many traditional British songs require, but she can also pull off a more modern tone for contemporary songs, as heard here. Lili Marlene Walks Away is a song by Bill Caddick, who I am not familiar with. But Cowan must also be a story teller, even though the words are not her own, and she is more than up to the task.

Call for Help

Daniel Levi Goans: Heights So High

[purchase Choice Cannonballs]


Daniel Levi Goans is a solo act with the rare ability to let you hear a backup band that isn’t there. I can tell you what instruments there are and what they are doing. But it’s just Goans playing acoustic guitar and light percussion. Sometimes he adds a bit of piano, and he provides his own background vocals. Heights So High comes from his debut album, Choice Cannonballs. Now Goans is working on the follow-up, and he needs your help. Please give what you can.


Urban Sun is halfway there, with 19 days to go as I write this. It’s getting to be time for an angel or two, but small donations will also really help right now.

The Scarlet Furies seem to be stuck right now. Sometimes, it only takes a small donation to open the taps again. This promises to be one of the best Americana albums of the year, if they can just get it made. Please give what you can.

Leannan Sidhe is down to 8 days left as I write this, and she is so close to her goal. Can someone put her over the top?

On behalf of all of these artists, thank you for whatever you can do to help.


Anonymous said...

Just fyi, Beat Surrender has a couple of Madison Violet videos to stream.