AuthorMatthew Taylor

When You Come Around

I remember thinking what a brilliant idea it was to release an entire album’s worth of original songs/videos to YouTube over the course of several weeks. That was 13 years ago, and the person who did it first (as far as I know) was Terra Naomi. I love all of those videos, but the one I chose for this post was produced a few years later and is my favorite.

I am a bit frustrated at the tidal wave of “relationship songs” that wash over YouTube. So many talented young songwriters throwing their hat in the ring choosing to compete in a genre that is glutted with forgettable songs. Sorry. I think many of them could channel their talents more productively. That said, Paul McCartney made it clear that another silly love song is just what we need. And fortunately, when it’s done right, he’s right. So, I am encouraged when I come across songs that treat relationships in a mature and complex way without pretense. Terra Naomi has written a number of these songs: Never Quite Discussed, Say It’s Possible, and Close to Your Head are early examples. Each of them showing complexity in harmony, melody, and lyrically. Later efforts are even better.

This is a performance of the song, When You Come Around. Given that she controls both the piano and voice, she can make this song breathe as she wishes. That gives this performance a maturity that’s difficult for many younger performers/composers to match. The piano part is brilliantly voiced and would work as an instrumental piece. The lyrics are poetic without being cheesy. Hard to do. And her voice is the real thing. Cheers.

Lady d’Arbanville

There is something timeless about Cat Stevens’ music. I don’t think I am being nostalgic when I listen to his songs, they sound is if they were written and produced just yesterday. I also seem to have the same emotional response now as then despite being 50 years older.

Even though my songs are currently lyric free, my musical journey includes singing. And, like most singers, I learned to sing by imitating singers I admired. A previous post mentioned Greg Lake as my favorite voice of all time, but I couldn’t sing along with his songs. They were pitched way too high. So, I sang along with Ian Anderson, James Taylor, and Cat Stevens. To some degree, I think my older teenage voice was a fusion of those voices (at least in my mind). Cat Stevens was unique, however. I purchased all his albums, then all his cassette tapes, then eventually, all of his CDs. During my 30s and 40s I must admit that I didn’t listen to as much music as I should have, and many of my favorite songs collected metaphorical dust. But I remember the day I decided to purchase all the Cat Stevens CDs. It had been 25 years since I heard any of that music, but I sang along to 5 or 6 albums with no forgotten words. His music is sticky that way.

This video shows a simple acoustic performance of the song Lady d’Arbanville. I could have picked any song of his, as he never wrote a bad one, but this song shows off so much of what makes his music so perfect. His harmonies and melodies are complex, and his narratives are mind bending. Add to that this beautiful guitar duet, and you get something very special. Finally, his voice. As I listen to this video once again, there is no doubt why I wanted to sound like him.

The Lion’s Roar

I can’t remember which song or video of First Aid Kit I saw first, but this one has always been my favorite. It’s easy to find a very polished performance, or even a highly produced music video of any top act, but I always lean toward things like this. You can think about how many takes were done to get this final product, but I tend to believe that the answer here is one.

It’s fun to look at the video First Aid Kit did of the Tiger Mountain Peasant Song. If you don’t know, they were very young, and that video cover went viral and started their career. And, I really like the many other covers that they have done: Universal Soldier and It Ain’t Me Babe to name a couple; but, their original music is the real prize. It would be dismissive to say that their lyrics are secondary to the vocal harmonies, which make everything sound perfect, but I think they pay as much attention to their words as does their hero, Robin Pecknold. The lyrics of the song in this video hold deep meaning for me, as I think they do for many people. Just like a Fleet Foxes song, I suggest you listen closely and imagine the world they describe. You might find personal meaning there as well.

This is unique video. It shows the Soderberg sisters walking through the streets of Paris playing The Lion’s Roar. It feels totally organic. There are people everywhere, with only a few showing any real interest in the performance. There are also trucks and traffic and noise and everything you expect in an urban street scene. That said, it all contributes to the context and emotional power of this song. I can’t imagine that you will only watch part of this video, or even watch only once. I think it will stay with you for a long time as it has with me. Cheers.

The Sage

In the last post, Fallin’, I stated that as a young person I only appreciated singing that was in tune and beautiful. I could share a video of Alison Krauss to make my point, and I might just do that soon, but for now, I present my favorite voice of all time, Greg Lake.

I obtained my love of ELP from my older brother. He too was a keyboard player and leaned toward classical music and progressive rock. In those days we were listening to Yes, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Kansas, Boston, Triumverat, and of course, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I remember getting the album Brain Salad Surgery as a birthday gift when I turned 15. I soon collected everything they made. When ELP released the Works album, I was fortunate enough to see that concert in Long Beach. The London Symphony Orchestra had been touring with them, but that night, they weren’t there, so Emerson played his Piano Concerto No. 1 as a solo piece. Amazing. Despite the virtuosity of Keith Emerson, the voice of the group, and to me much of the group identity, was Greg Lake. He had the tone of a baritone, but the range of a high tenor. So rare.

This is a live performance of The Sage, a portion of the group’s interpretation of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This video does a nice job of showing off Lake’s voice and how much control and dynamic range he used. Beautiful. And, now that I’m a guitar guy, I can’t help but enjoy this guitar performance. I think you will enjoy this a much as I always do.

Fallin’

When I was young, I thought good singing was hitting notes and making beautiful sounds. I still like those things, but I now think that good singing is more about being authentic and fearless. Welcome to authentic and fearless.

Jake Bugg continues to write great songs, but this is still my favorite. And yes, he was crazy young here. I remember hearing Lightening Bolt on TV commercials and not knowing who that was. Then I saw a video of him playing Country Song and Someone Told Me and I put the pieces together. Of course, I was fascinated by his accent, but I was also struck by the quality of the songs and performance. About the accent, for most of my life, it seemed to me that the majority of popular songs were sung without much regional affect. The Beatles and the Beach Boys weren’t all that different. Work with me here. To me it all changed with the Arctic Monkeys, and I have to say, applying local speech patterns to singing added to the authentic quality of the sound. It made it better for my ear. Of course, I listened to Anthony Newley when I was very young, and he really pushed speaking patterns into his performances, but looking back, maybe that’s why I liked him so much.

This is a live performance in what seems like a hostile environment. Okay, not that hostile. But, it is a venue with a ton of distractions, and the young Jake Bugg handles it all like a pro (even giving a nasty stare down at one point). This song has a great hook, a great chord progression, and I can’t say enough about the performance. Were you this fearless at 16?

Lazy Eye

Today I give you energy. Then exhaustion. This song and performance always do that to me.

The first time I heard Silversun Pickups was during their Unplugged performance for VH-1. Amazing. I remember thinking I’ll just listen for a second, then I’ll go on to do other things. No dice. I couldn’t look away and I was drawn in by Brian Aubert’s voice. I was listening to the song Panic Switch, and just like Lazy Eye, the song eventually vaults into fifth gear. It’s at that point that Aubert’s voice becomes piercing and perfect all at the same time. It takes your breath away. It’s such a contrast to his less energetic singing voice, which is way different than his speaking voice. It might be tempting to say there is pretension in how he performs, but it rings truly authentic to me. I’ve seen quite a few of their live performances and he is very consistent.

This video is a live performance of the song Lazy Eye. This is an acoustic version. I say that because of the types of guitar and keyboard used. The guitar parts are very clean and show what a great guitarist and composer Aubert is. I think you’ll have fun with this one. Buckle up.

New Slang

I have already featured Robin Pecknold, and I think I said he was one of the best songwriters of this century, well, here’s the other, James Mercer.

Fortunately, there are versions of James Mercer’s songs both within the group, The Shins, and as guitarist and voice alone. I love both, but when he is just playing acoustic guitar and singing, you get a real sense of drama and how finely crafted his melodies are. I first heard this song on Pandora, but I don’t remember what station I was listening to. I think I was also listening to other groups like Fleet Foxes, The Killers, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Modest Mouse, etc. Something about this song stood above them all. When I started to investigate his other songs, I quickly realized that he had written many pieces as good as this one. When you got it, you got it.

This video shows a live performance of the song, New Slang. I realize that this performance seems like simple strumming to go with the sung melody, but there is more to his playing than that, and his accuracy is noteworthy. There is a clear baseline and grace notes that carry subtle melodic elements. This is true whenever he performs in this format. It’s always more than it seems. I never tire of this song, nor many of his others.

Little Bird

This is another artist that is well loved by YouTube. I mean, there’s a lot of Laura Marling videos to choose from, and fortunately, they’re all good.

I think I first heard Laura Marling when she released the song, Rambling Man. I didn’t see a video of her until long after that. When I finally got to see her perform, I was struck by so many things. First, her voice is unique, and she uses it in so many ways. In fact, this video highlights her ability to switch between beautiful singing and singsong like story telling. What is even more striking is the array of timbres she generates with her guitar. Everything from bright to muted sounds and staccato to long sustains. As a side note, she uses alternative tunings. This provides opportunities to ring open strings in full sonorous chords. It sounds great.

This video is a live performance of the song, Little Bird. It is packed with emotion, which can be heard in the singer’s voice and seen on her face. There is a moment, when her guard is dropped, as she sings an incorrect lyric and smiles at her own mistake. Part of me is grateful that someone this good actually makes mistakes, and another part of me is empathetic to the moment. Regardless, I have watched this video many times and really love how expressive the song and performance are. This is the good stuff.

Jealous

My bucket list has one item, something from Orla that says, “Orla fancies me.”

I first learned of Orla Gartland from a friend of mine. I have no idea where he heard of her, but at the time, she had mostly covers on her YouTube channel and had just started writing her own music. I was impressed with this young woman who decided to use the Internet as her jury, and I was amused at her uncensored rendition of Little Lion Man. When she first started, her voice was somewhat reserved, but over time, she developed a voice I love to listen to. Her guitar playing was spot on from the beginning and developed to the point where you might think of her as a guitarist who sings. She can really play. She can also write beautiful songs.

This video is great, but in some ways a compromise. The original video for this song was my favorite video on YouTube. Orla provided fans with the lyrics to this song, then asked them for images or drawings that went with the song lines. The resulting video was a collage of these images set to the music. It was deep and emotional. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, it was later removed. This is a live performance of the song Jealous. Even though it’s not the original, it’s still amazing. I still love every moment of this song.

No Rain

I think I was inspired by last week’s blog and wanted to select another inspiring vocal performance. I really love Shannon Hoon’s voice. His passing was a real tragedy.

I’m sure I was aware of this song when it first hit the radio, but it came into focus when I heard a cover of it done by Mike Masse. It was then that I realized, not only what a great song it was, but how demanding the vocal part was. Consider the fact that I am a bass/baritone and notes above middle C require some determination. Notes above F require no one else be listening. So, you can see why I really admire tenors that can navigate such a high tessitura. I look up to them (so to speak). But that’s not all of it. Singing high is one thing, but having a unique expression in that range is intriguing, and in this case, riveting.

This version of the song, No Rain, is nicely performed in a very small venue fashion. The vocal performance here is different from the recording, but it might be better in many regards. It certainly connects with the listener. There is also a great guitar solo in this performance as well.

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