Still working my way through 2012’s acquisitions, I offer another round of women artists I thought were pretty groovy this past year. So without further ado…
Daughter of famous parents Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle, and sister of the ever-impressive Rufus Wainwright (who also had a new album out last year), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’ve listened to brother/sister artists before, like Ben Taylor and Sally Taylor (children of James Taylor and Carly Simon), and ended up only liking one (Ben, in this case), and wasn’t really sure what to expect from Martha. But the title of her 2008 album, I Know You’re Married, but I’ve Got Feelings Too belied a level of wit I knew I had to check out, because that shit is funny.
I would describe her voice as a fair helping of Tori Amos, a bit of Tift Merritt, moments of Stevie Nicks, and maybe just a dash of Kate Bush c. 1988. She has a penchant for involved and unexpected melodies and arrangements, perhaps not quite at the symphonic composition level that her brother does, but certainly goes well beyond the 3-4 chords some artists I am know stick to. She gets better with each listening.
Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas’s Is Your Love Big Enough? came out this year, and for the life of me, I cannot tell you how I came across it. I’m going to hazard a guess that she was another KXCI find. (KXCI is the only radio station I’ve listened to in years that consistently exposes me to new music that I then go hunt down and buy. Which is ostensibly the role of radio in music, but commercial radio just doesn’t do that anymore–it won’t take those risks.)
As I listen to her, I initially found it difficult to peg her music or her voice, which is kind of cool–if she were that easily described, she’d be just another soundalike. But if Feist sang folky soul music, she might approach Lianne La Havas. This album is a perfect in-the-background Sunday afternoon relaxing album, but I’m pretty sure it would be a good makeout record, too.
My fanhood for Sara Bareilles isn’t new (and you probably remember her from the ubiquitous, and for that, highly ironic, “Love Song”), but she put out a new EP this year called Once Upon Another Time that felt like something of a departure for her, but not an extreme or unwelcome one. Ben Folds, with whom she worked as a co-judge on The Sing-Off, produced it, and sang backup on “Sweet as Whole” (which has NSFW lyrics, so wear your headphones). Because she’s a young woman who plays piano, she is constantly compared to Fiona Apple, but that’s a pretty crap comparison, because beyond sharing two X-chromosomes and an instrument, they couldn’t be more different.
Sara has a pop sensibility that allows her to write hits on the regular, powerful pipes, and, you know, the wherewithal to actually get out and perform. (No disrespect to Fiona and her issues; I really loved her first 3 albums. But despite all the accolades the album she put out this year received, I just cannot get into it. I’ve tried. I want to like it. But I just don’t.) My point being, they’re very different artists. If you haven’t checked her out beyond what’s been on the radio, I suggest that you do so.
It was a long way from here to Janna Marit being in my music collection. All I did was buy a ticket to see Emmylou Harris last year when she was in town. Her opener was a youngish (younger than I, anyway) man by the name of Simon Lynge, who was a terrific songwriter, a fantastic guitar player, and an even better singer. (His version of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” blew me away.) Anyway, Simon is the loving husband of Janna Marit, and as such, he posted the link to her Kickstarter fundraising drive to record her debut album, “Blush in Blue.” So I checked it out, thought, “What the hell?” and kicked in a few bucks. Janna’s voice ranges from mostly sweet to occasionally sultry, and when I listen to her album, I always engage in a mental debate with myself as to whether it was intended primarily for kids or not. Invariably, I come down on the side of “not,” because some of the songs are obviously romantic, but the fact that it’s even a question is interesting to me. I think there’s a well-preserved innocence and idealism in her songs that invites the listener to drop the world-weary cynicism of the moment, and come play with her, and how is that not a good thing? Janna’s album is not available on Spotify, but you can hear some of her tracks here.
It was 1989 when to my MTV screen came these two women playing acoustic guitars, wearing flannel and jeans (despite not being from Seattle), and unquestionably kicking ass. I became a fan by the end of their “Closer to Fine” video, and have remained one throughout the intervening 24 years, singing along to that song at the end of 6 live shows now, including one Saturday night. If you didn’t keep track of them, they released their 14th studio album, Beauty Queen Sister in late 2011. But I didn’t buy it until early 2012, which is why it made the list.
What can I say about the Indigo Girls? They’ve inspired me again and again. They’ve helped teach me to sing harmony by amazing example. I am repeatedly touched by their brilliant, evocative, literate lyrics that nonetheless remain accessible, lyrics that both wound and heal. They are one of the few bands I’ve seen over the years that are so practiced and polished that the live show, whether as just a duo or with a backing band, is delivered equally pristinely as the recording. I admire their activism, as well. They are not, in my opinion, as rich and famous as they probably should be (or if they are, they certainly don’t flaunt it), but their fan base is loyal, and they use what visibility they have to raise awareness about important issues.
Saturday night, their two voices and two guitars (and the occasional mandolin and banjo) were backed up by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about the TSO backing them; I love going to the symphony, so it wasn’t that I don’t care for orchestral music. The first few songs were neat, but it seemed a little gimmicky to have the orchestra there, and unnecessary, as the two of them are so good on their own. And then it all came together in “Compromise” (seen here with the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra), and I had goosebumps. I was sold.
I’m a superfan of theirs, so this week’s playlist is Indigo Girls-heavy. I’d ask you to forgive me if I were even a little bit sorry. But I’m not.