Thursday, November 15, 2007

Singer-Songwriter-Poets

I'm taking a break from Memory Lane to write on a subject that emerges whenever I listen to certain songs. Lyrics to the vast majority of songs are banal. Just occasionally along comes a singer-songwriter who is also a poet.

Bob Dylan is the arch-type singer-songwriter-poet, sitting way up there at the top. Others will disagree but no-one else comes close and the biggest test of all is the timelessness of Dylan's writings.

But here are some others that I personally think reside somewhere on the slopes of that pinnacle that is Dylan.

Mary Chapin Carpenter is second on my list for a number of reasons. Her poetry is significant and the way she sings her own songs has a strength that is undeniable. Recent albums have had a more political undertone with social commentary. The Calling has several, including a sad song of the evacuation of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, titled "Houston". One song to convince you? Try "Alone but Not Lonely".

Lucinda Williams has an "unrefined" voice that goes well with her South Louisana roots. Again, no-one sings her songs better than she does (though Mary Chapin Carpenter did an excellent job with "Passionate Kisses"). Interesting that she has toured with Dylan. One song to convince you? Try "Lake Charles".

Lyle Lovett is best when he sings his own material though he also covers similar musical styles well (Step Inside This House proves that). Having seen him live in Houston I am even more of a believer! His up and down career with life (he was married to Julia Roberts for 2 years) comes through in many of his songs but in truth he is simply the latest in a long line of Texas story tellers (see below) writing about what he sees as well as experiences. One song to convince you? Try "Her First Mistake".

Townes Van Zandt is no longer alive, having died at the age of 52 in 1999. But he is probably one of folk music's greatest poets and his compositions will live on for years to come. In fact his death probably raised his profile. With three major hits covered by others, including "Pancho and Lefty" by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, he was never successful as a performer, mainly because of a reputation for being "erratic". One song to convince you? Try "If I Needed You".

It is interesting that all the above poets are considered to be country singers. However none of them fits the "Nashville" definition easily. In some ways it would be better to describe them as "contemporary adult folk singers" only because there doesn't seem to be any other pigeon hole. All do fit the role as singing story tellers, though, and that might be the best way to describe what it is they do.