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.