Under-appreciated Singers and Songwriters
Created | Updated Nov 26, 2016
This is a list of just some of those singers and songwriters whose work does not always get the attention it deserves. Some are well-known, some are not, but all of them deserve your attention.
Hardly neglected really - not a year seems to go by without another Best of... - and she was twice female singer of the year while just a singer in a folk band that had no 'hits' to its name. Nevertheless, there are many that do not know her work.
Her best work was probably with Fairport Convention1. The two albums with Iain Matthews2 still in the band display a tension that led to some great harmonies and counter melodies as they vied with each other to dominate the tune. On going solo, she made several albums, and inevitably left her folk roots behind - most notably on the album Like an Old Fashioned Waltz.
With seven CDs and many years solid work in jazz clubs big and small, she re-interprets into jazz unusual or forgotten songs from a wide variety of songwriters. More recently she seems to be moving into the mainstream (as evinced by a dreadful version of the Beatles' 'Help' with Oasis' Liam Gallagher on a recent album) but that may not be a bad thing, if it gets her talent recognised more widely. Ditto her presenting work with BBC Radio 3. She does this with Stacey Kent, a UK-based American with a wonderfully husky voice reminiscent of Billie Holiday and who has a more 'standards' repertoire than Claire.
As with many of the artists here, Eva's work is hard to classify, thus difficult to find, although you are likely to come across this US singer in the 'Blues' section of most stores. If you can, buy the CD Live at Blues Alley first - not only will it take your breath away, but you'll notice that it's hardly 'blues' at all, being more gospel/light jazz/standards. Listen to her version of 'Wonderful World' or Sting's 'Fields of Gold'. You may hear or read that she was 're-discovered' by Terry Wogan3. Don't let that put you off.
June Tabor has a beautiful, mournful voice, especially suited to the sadder folk ballads, sometimes exquisitely sung solo with no accompaniment whatsoever, especially on anti-war songs such as 'Willie McBride' and 'And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda', the latter about Gallipoli. Other 'stand-out' interpretations would be 'China Wings' about pigeon racing and 'Hard Love' about dealing with child abuse. Elvis Costello is quoted as saying that 'if you don't like her voice, you don't like music'. There is an anthology album available, which provides a good introduction to her work.
Most will know her duet with Joe Cocker4 'Up Where We Belong' from the film An Officer and a Gentleman or another movie theme, 'The Time of our Lives' from Dirty Dancing. The reason she is on this list is for one album only, Famous Blue Raincoat, her album of Leonard Cohen songs. Leonard Cohen was a splendid Canadian singer/songwriter famous for black polo neck sweaters and much listened to by young ladies alone in their rooms. He became a Buddhist monk and died in 2016. Jennifer Warnes's Famous Blue Raincoat album is magnificent.
Eric Bibb voices personal blues with a touch of religion, from those hotbeds of the Blues, New York and... Sweden! Eric Bibb has toured frequently in Europe since the early 1980s, has several albums to his name, and he deserves greater recognition. In the USA it seems that he has been helped and supported by the legendary Taj Mahal. If you find his music a little sweet and light, try Keb Mo, another protegee of Taj Mahal with a straighter line back to Robert Johnson - one of the earliest, and perhaps the greatest, exponents of Country Blues.
Shawn Colvin is a long-established US folk singer. In the UK, at least, it was Cover Story, an album of excellent covers, that first brought her to prominence. Her version of the Police song 'Every Breath You Take' in particular got a lot of airplay. From that we move on to some of her own songs, particularly the angry and bitter 'break-up' album A Few Small Repairs. She is often bracketed with the estimable Mary Chapin Carpenter5 and regularly sits in with many other performers, notably Van Morrison recently.
Shelby Lynne is a US 'Country' singer, who had been around Nashville for some years before releasing the very impressive and multi-faceted I am Shelby Lynne last year. She was promoted heavily in the UK but a glance at the Shelby Lynne website indicates that she is getting better known in America. Must be more good stuff to come.
A splendid British Jazz trumpet player, Guy Barker is really here to represent those many, many musicians of prodigious talent who train, practice and play their hearts out over the years without receiving the reward of wide recognition and reasonable wealth that their virtuosity deserves. As these things go, Guy Barker is fairly prominent. He has played with innumerable bands and groups, from Georgie Fame to Sting, Carla Bley (A US big band jazz leader with big hair) to Tina Turner. He has made four CDs, of which the first Isn't It is perhaps the most accessible (though hard to find), and one of which 'Out of the Blue' was nominated for the Mercury Music Award. The Mercury Music Award is an annual British award which usually includes a lesser known artist or two in their list, lending the award a degree of credibility. He has written music for the film The Talented Mr Ripley, and he tours regularly. He is a truly consummate musician.
Almost everyone over 30 will remember Escape (The Pina Colada Song), but Rupert Holmes remains too little known as a writer of catchy intelligent songs. Claire Martin recorded The People who you Never Get to Love and Partners in Crime, the latter a neat series of cameos of SM relationships, reminding people of his work. His canon of recorded work is quite large, but little known. Reminiscent of Sondheim, he has moved on to musical shows, and writes Remember Wenn, a US TV series. He once had a spell with The Strawbs - an English 'folk' band who were, coincidentally, once the home of Sandy Denny (qv).
Dave's True Story
Dave's True Story is music for grown-ups covering quirky subjects with excellent lyrics, these songs which are beautifully recorded suit their native New York very well. Chuckle as a wife tries to retrieve her errant spouse from his FemDom mistress in 'Dear Miss Lucy', wonder at the rhyme of Trollope with wallop in 'I'll Never Read Trollope Again'. If you take nothing else from this entry, get to know these guys.
This chap should be a superstar, but is relegated to the ranks of a 'musician's musician'. Maybe best known through Bonnie Raitt, one of the many people he regularly works with. Spirits Colliding must be one of the all-time great 100 albums. Perhaps it's difficult to classify Paul's work - for some reason the 'folk' category is the usual home, which makes for confused marketing.
A singer/songwriter who actually had chart success with the single 'Angelia', Richard Marx 's best-selling and best-known album is Repeat Offender which went platinum in 1989. His songs have been recorded by many various artists from Kenny Rogers to NSync covering the likes of Barbra Streisand on the way. His own singing is pitch perfect and has just enough of a touch of huskiness to show the very real emotions with which the songs were written.