Folksingers. Protestsingers. Troubadours. That's what we used to call them before Jac Holzman's Elektra Records put out "The Singer Songwriter Project" in 1965. The album featured four different US singer songwriters, with a style completely their own. David Cohen (aka David Blue), Dick (Richard) Farina, Bruce Murdoch and Patrick Sky. It took a while until the phrase was commonly used, but when Jackson Browne, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and others came along, in the late 60's, early 70's, everybody knew what a 'singer songwriter' was.
Hemifrån pays tribute to both the phrase and this classic and historic album with "Hidden Treasures - Singer Songwriters From Home", featuring Bob Cheevers, Greg Copeland, Keith Miles and Barry Ollman, four highly acclaimed US singer songwriters who's been around for years, yet still are some kind of 'hidden treasures'.
Taking this full circle, on the very first song on the album, is Greg Copeland, who managed to persuade Patrick Sky (one of four performers on the original 'singer songwriter project'!) to add some beautiful uilleann pipes. Other famous friends helping out Copeland, Miles, Cheevers and Ollman are Jackson Browne, David Lindley, John Fullbright and Tim O'Brien.
Folksingers, protestsingers, troubadours, singer songwriters. 50 years, this year, we celebrate them all with 18 exclusive songs on a brand new album.
Singer Songwriters - A Noble Quest for an Awkward Name
»I’m sitting here listening to the four-point musical compass of various works by Barry Ollman, Bob Cheevers, Greg Copeland and Keith Miles. Fine artists all and, I must admit, fellow recording artists of whom I knew little before this morning’s listening session. And yet in spite of that unfamiliarity, I immediately felt an undeniable affinity for each of them, long lost brothers, comrades fighting the same battle, fellow members of the Don Quixote tribe. Upon first listen, I found myself nothing less then a fellow-conspirator within their confessional lyrics, a fellow neo-philosopher in their search for meaning in a meaningless world, and, above all, ceaselessly trying to personalize a very impersonal world within the confines of a simple, hopefully catchy, song. And that’s because no other genre in popular music can contain such intimacy, such poignancy and host so many divergent musical universes, as that of the singer-songwriter. A name, by the way, I have always felt entirely uncomfortable with. Come on, if there’s a nerd term in music that’s it. But maybe that’s part of the attraction.
When did I first hear the term singer-songwriter? Well, apart from the very album that this is a tribute to, it seems to me it was sometime in the early 70’s when soft-rock artists such as James Taylor ruled the airways. But even then it was an awkward fit. Because after all, who really was a singer-songwriter? What was the consummate definition? Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, did they fit in? Were the Beatles singer-songwriters? I mean they sang and they wrote songs but then again they were a group, they didn’t burst upon the scene naked with their own little names melting under the megalomaniacal lights of show business. I suppose singer-songwriters were emerged unspoiled and unpurist from the folk boom of the early 60’s and being the pragmatic types that is our wont, we eventually added drums, electric guitars and whatever it took to get played on the damn radio. It’s a wide appellation and a versatile craft that has attracted iconoclasts, purists and narcissists for the last 50 years or more. In short, my kind of people.
I’ve known singer-songwriters who are more country than anything else and others who easily cross the line into blues with reckless abandon and others who sound just like a great rock’n’roll band. Some of us sing with operatic abandon while others almost talk their way through poetic prose. Where’s the unifying thread? I guess it’s when the individuality of the work supersedes everything else, when a voice is a more then a voice and the singer becomes the auteur of the work as the French love to say. No matter how you deconstruct it, there’s a personality burning there within the song, a head popping fearlessly up from the crowd.
What I like about singer-songwriters is that it all begins with the seed of a melody or chord progression and scribbled lyric notes and one oh so lonesome artist trying to get something done and if that finally finished song can survive the light of day with just a guitar or piano backing then it can usually graduate on to a more sophisticated musical setting when it enters the explosive mine field of a recording studio with confidence. Good songs are indestructible, almost. Someone once said that if you want to hide poetry where it will never be found, put it in a rock song, because no one will ever bother to look there. But in general singer-songwriters defiantly put those same words, that damn poetry, right in your face and you can’t miss it, you can’t help but get involved, to take it personally, to think I’ve felt like that myself sometimes. To relate.
So I say here, here, keep those singer-songwriters coming along, no matter how much the popular culture seems to find them uncomfortable, regardless if radio won’t play them, because we are defiant and rebellious by nature no matter how quiet our shows may be at times. We express what nobody wants to hear, but what everybody feels, like the crazy aunt who lives in the attic and is full of brilliant truths. So pick up that guitar, grab a tender phrase by the hand as it floats by in the ether, and make that song so damn personal you’re almost embarrassed to sing it in front of other people. But believe me, you get use to it.«
~ Elliott Murphy (Paris, June 1st, 2015)
Photo Credits: (1) 'Hidden Treasures - Singer Songwriters From Home', (2) Barry Ollman, (3) Greg Copeland, (4) Keith Miles, (5) Bob Cheevers, (6) Elliott Murphy (unknown/website).