This is the third of three blogs, following the pieces on American and Canadian songwriters, which celebrate recordings by the unsung heroes of the independent music scene. In this edition: Bob Pearce, Al Lindsay, Kevin James, Ember and Jason Baldock of The Deets.
The mainstream media only discusses corporate music and ignores independent releases so I would like to mention a few songs I’ve come across which have given me just as much pleasure as a hit record.
BOB PEARCE – ‘Everybody Pleasin’ Man’
I ain’t gonna worry about nobody else
I ain’t gonna worry about nobody else
I’m gonna do what I do
And I’m gonna do it for myself
Bob is a singer/songwriter/musician who is mainly coming from the blues, but he also writes gospel and soul songs. His 1997 album ‘Southern Style Homecooked Blues and Side Dishes’ is consistently convincing. The second track has the most immediate effect, a one-chord, open-ended, John Lee Hooker-style number which has intensity in the performance, spirit in the message and soul in the vocals.
Bob is steeped in the blues, so he can deliver the song well. Writing the thing, however, is a different matter, and there’s no blandness or corniness in evidence. At the same time, the song’s lyric has a rugged self-reliance which fits right into the idiom. The rest of the album has a band sound but this song is played solo, which might add to its authenticity.
AL LINDSAY – ‘Fly Away’
A long sentence prisoner
You need the sun on your skin
There’s no chance of parole
And you’re keepin’ it all in
If anyone personifies the great work done by artists not receiving corporate support, it’s Al Lindsay. I’ve singled out the song ‘Fly Away’ from 2009’s ‘Shingle Street’ CD because it’s a good example of Al doing what he does best. There’s nothing flashy about the singing or the song but, like a lot of great folk and blues, it works on a sensual, pre-intellectual level.
There would be no point analyzing the song because the way Al plays and writes goes beyond that. He acknowledges his debt to the late John Martyn, which is refreshing, and, like Martyn did in the 70s and sporadically thereafter, he combines virtuosic guitar playing, expressive singing and warm production to create recordings that go deeper than most.
KEVIN JAMES – ‘Courage’
Fear is bitter, fear is lonely
Still it’s part of life’s array
Follow only what your heart conveys
And pay…with courage
A little while ago, Kevin came up with a song which could become a standard, i.e. it could be sung in almost any context and remain a good song.
‘Courage’ is the emotional climax of a musical Kevin wrote called ‘Lone Flyers’ which depicts the life and times of British aviator Amy Johnson.
It has an unexpected modulation, which makes it original in a harmonic sense. The lyric is well-crafted, life-affirming and obviously from the heart.
But even without these things, the melody is so great and natural that you could listen to it played on the pan pipes and it would still sound good.
There are a lot of musical twists and turns in the song’s 2 minutes 53 seconds. It reminds me of Jimmy Webb’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ with its brevity and how it captures the irony of the moment.
JASON BALDOCK – ‘ I Worry (So That You Don’t Have To)’
This is one of those songs that hides its real identity. It springs from an interesting everyday phrase and suggests a reassuring parental tone.
However, the singer isn’t about to lay himself down like a bridge over troubled water. There’s angst and conflict right from the start, revealing itself musically in the opening chords, C major and F# major. The musical interval between the notes C and F#, known as a ‘tritone’, was once thought to symbolize the devil.
The mood of the song is the opposite to what its title suggests, the lyrics a kind of ‘anti-poetry’. I doubt if Jason spent hours poring over them and nor should he have. The result is a fresh and irreverent song well played and produced (Jason did everything except sing the female part, which his sister Tash did.) The song’s title/hook is repeated percussively throughout, giving the song unity rather than monotony, mainly because the original idea was a good one.
Emily Williams – ‘Ocean’
I love you like an enemy, loving you defensively
At arms’ length I hold you even as you kiss me
A state of resigned despair is described in this song’s lyric. It’s also an aptly-titled composition considering the emotional depth which becomes apparent the moment Emily and Rebecca Sullivan, her partner in the duo Ember start up. This depth is enhanced by the sparseness of the arrangement, the classical guitar, harmonica and two voices adding more than an orchestra could.
Some might describe the style as ‘folk’, and there is some kind of rural innocence in there which doesn’t sound put on. The wordless vocalizing and instrumental passages all serve the song’s purpose and enhance its dreamy but primal character.
The songwriters described above are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of this country’s great poetic and composing talent.
I wish they were all in the charts.