Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Tower Of Song

Charles Schulz famously wrote, "I love mankind. It's people I can't stand." As I grow older in a world of greed, war, genocide, torture, starvation, homelessness, and moral certitude, I find myself drawing the opposite conclusion: People are great; it's the world that sucks. Still, tremendous individual efforts and acts of courage, deep friendships and connections, familial and romantic love also characterize this same old world. I'm not much of a believer any more, but Jesus had it right: When the corruption and stench of Rome dominate the known world, meaning and redemption lie within the individual.

I find meaning in my family and friends, like my Irish friend Pat, shown here. Pat is a farmer, landscaper, and singer living here in the west of Ireland. He's the hardest working man I know. Two evenings a week -- on Friday and Sunday -- he and his friend Mick take their guitars and banjos to play gigs at McHale's and The Towers in Westport, Ireland. They sing traditional tunes, popular songs, and songs they happen to like. Patrons join in, and occasionally someone steps forth with a favorite of their own. Sunday night at The Towers is the best: At around 11:00, people drift in for one last pint, a few more songs, and a final hour of ease with their fellow man before the work week begins.

Songs have been my connection to the ineffable since I was a boy listening to my parents' Broadway musical soundtracks. Eventually, The Beatles and Dylan and Paul Simon beckoned, transporting me to a new galaxy of perception. In college, I turned to the likes of Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen, and Bruce Springsteen. Today -- whether because of the Baby Boom or a special need to respond to the times -- there is a veritable Big Bang of wonderfully talented singer-songwriters. The best of them contribute in his or her own way to what Robert Hughes called the basic project of art: Individuals making some sense of the world and creating meaning by closing "the gap between everything that is you and not you."

Today's entry singles out some twenty contemporary songwriters whose work I've come to respect and admire. There are more men than women, but not for any reason other than I explore where the reviews and recommendations take me. The last two names on the list aren't contemporary, but the impact they had on a genre of music obscures their prodigious songwriting talents enough that I wanted to highlight them. Click on a name and you'll get their web site (which often includes free downloads and samples). Click on the recommended CD name to hear samples from it. Enjoy.


If there's anyone out there reading, add to the list via a comment. You can't hear too many good songs.


Carol said...

Lately I've been listening to Fair and Square by John Prine; all of Iris DeMent's albums, and Anything Anytime Anywhere by Bruce Cockburn. Also, Beautiful by Paul Simon. Thanks for all your great ideas.

Kathy said...

I loved the pictures of Ireland. My husband's family comes from a small town in N. Ireland. We were blessed to be able to visit there several years ago and I loved everything about the country. We stayed at a B&B that was very similar to the house in your friend Pat's collection. I loved all their stone houses and fences (and the sheep that dotted the hillsides!).

One other observation - you're right, people are great no matter where you go in this world. You just have to open your eyes and hearts to find them.

K. said...

I am a big John Prine fan. Fair & Square was in my rotation for months, and "Angel From Montgomery" is one of the best songs by anyone ever. I could have had Prine, Iris DeMent (who I think is married to Greg Brown), and Bruce Cockburn on the list. (I'll check out "AAA;" have you heard his Christmas CD?) The list got so long that I trimmed some of the more established performers.

Ireland is a wonderful country and the Irish are wonderful people. I hope you're able to return. The first time I went was on business. I'd been flying all day and all night, and was exhausted. Nonetheless, I felt a profound sense of connection when I set foot on the ground. I've been to my ancestral home of Athlone; it was amazing to wander the streets knowing that a great great great grandparent or uncle or aunt might have followed the same path 150 years past.

Barnsy said...

oh my god!

I have been meditating on that Robert Hughes quote all weekend: about the connection between everything that IS you and everything that is NOT you.

How strange I should run across it in your blog. I love the internet.

I feel like I am realizing how crucial art is in order to make sense of everything that is not me. Art makes you question; without it, I would never try to understand anything.

I am planning on making some music tonight based on that idea. I really want to commune with the "whole of history," and to experience life at a deeper level. Thank you for our blog... you are doing good work.

If you get a chance, visit mine:

Anonymous said...

Love Slaid and Iris DeMent, too. I use to have most of the Robert Johnson committed to memory. My father played it when I was a baby. Now my teen aged boys are telling me they love it, too. Slaid we use to see in Austin from time to time. Wishbone must be 4 years old now; we saw him debut it at a Barnes and Noble in San Antonio when we were living out in the hill country on our little dear departed ranch. I hope he's working on something new. I love to hear him talk about working as a human guinea pig for pharmaceutical testing to supplement his singer/songwriter income. There is a big industry giant in the field - Pharmco - that takes advantage of the presence of so many students, homeless, and musicians. They call it "working down on the pharm". Iris' songs remind me of growing up in Kingsville - all small town, common hopes themes. -PD

stupid and contagious said...

Hey Killian!

You seem to have forgotten Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen - without doubt the two finest songwriters (and performers - Lenny especially) of modern times (I don't mean Dylan's most recent meisterwerk!)!!

BTW ... Nice blog mate!

K. said...


I didn't forget them -- the list got so long that I decided to go with less established writers. Dylan, Cohen, Lennon-McCartney, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell -- they changed the way we heard songs.

rgg said...

I recommend Scott Miller, a singer-songwriter in the Steve Forbert vein. Like Forbert, he deserves a lot more recognition than he gets.
Check out "Amtrack Crescent" and/or "Wild Things"

K. said...

My brother has been trying to get me to listen to Scott M. for years, and finally gave up and sent me a sampler. He's really good. I picked up "Reconstruction" as an intro to him. I'll check on the two you recommend.