This is the second of three blogs which aim to provide alternative sources of music to what we are normally exposed to via the radio, TV, press and internet.
I have recently become aware of some people I think are great songwriters, people from whom any number of hugely acclaimed stars could learn from.
My assessment of the artists is naturally just an opinion. But every review, every award, every appearance of an artist in the mainstream media is largely the result of opinions too…
When Tim Harrison gets it right, he gets it very right. He may be singing a spiritual anthem, such as Raining Expectations or Healing Power. Or riding the driving energy of Born In The Mirror or We Believed. And then there’s the stately, almost classical Wheatfield With Crows and Never Bound By Time. When he comes up with stand-out tracks like these, the vocal delivery, tempi and arrangements all show a sureness of touch.
Van Morrison is an influence on Tim, but Van’s influences don’t seem to be. You don’t hear many soul, jazz or rhythm and blues affectations in the singing or token nods to the blues. Tim stays within the boundaries of what he does best, and thereby occupies unique musical ground.
The acoustic guitar is ubiquitous in his recordings, as Tim’s strumming and picking define each song’s feel. In the mid-90s Nick Naffin virtuosic acoustic lead was present too. 1997’s CD Bridges uses drums and full arrangements, which help the listener think big and bold. By the time of the Grey County album (2005), Tim is in a more rustic mood, augmenting the guitar by playing great banjo, mandolin and bass himself. The lack of drums and keyboards on this CD will please those keen on the purer acoustic sound.
It’s a testament to the man’s self-knowledge that, during a long career, he has never strayed into musical areas where he does not belong, and he has moved and stirred many hearts in the process. If there is a purpose to what he does, it is probably the expression of the redeeming qualities in human nature, an intention which shows more trivial work to be just that.
Seb, as his friends call him, has referred to himself both as a protest singer and a political songwriter. While both these terms give the listener some clue as to what to expect, they don’t tell the whole story. Most songwriters in the folk, rock and pop areas, when engaged in social commentary, tend towards expressing sentiments which could be described as ‘liberal’, but one of the main stances in Seb’s socially concerned work is ‘anti-liberal’, though he would probably call himself a ‘libertarian’. Musically, his body of work is so steeped in great folk, country and rock traditions that to me the musical and lyrical style is of more significance than the message.
There isn’t much that’s particularly sweet on the ear in Seb’s recordings, but you could say that’s deliberate, and is also the case in much authentic rock and folk. His country CDs, Full Moon and Welfare Checks and Modern Day Cowboy are perhaps the easiest to listen to and they show off Seb’s ability as an interpreter of other people’s songs, which he nevertheless puts his own stamp on. The latter album, though, includes one of Seb’s own best songs No I Can’t Do In mancanza di un’assistenza clienti infatti, il giocatore deve cercare di evitare l’iscrizione al Casino online , per il semplice fatto che se si dovesse verificare un qualsiasi problema, il giocatore rischierebbe di lasciarlo irrisolto e di trovarsi senza qualcuno che possa aiutarlo nel trovare un metodo per risolverlo. It, which, in the country tradition, deals poetically with a human and potentially painful situation.
Despite the fact that he sings and plays drums, bass and keyboards on his records, I think that guitar playing his Seb’s truest voice, where he expresses himself to the greatest extent. There’s some excellent acoustic fingerpicking on another fine song What About Mary from This Is A Protest Album and any number of great electric solos spread across the rockier albums.
The title track of 1990’s White Liberals on Reggae CD supplies all the qualities of Seb’s best work: witty, sarcastic and topical lyrics coupled with an infectious beat and skilled rock guitar playing. You’ll also find these elements on 2008’s Take Your Lumps. In less skilful hands the social content would sound clumsy and contrived, but Seb never sounds journalistic or preachy.
Seb makes a lot of canny observations in his lyrics, on many subjects. Here’s one with which real music lovers might emphathize :
“ Bad songs are still not a crime
In fact they’re the ones that get played ”
A sense of well-being, infused with the morality of common sense, comes across in the music of Peter Verity. He doesn’t court controversy or shout from the soul; instead he opts for fairly conventional but effective song composition, and the songs are always interpreted with charm and grace.
Tunes like Mississippi Ride and Norma Jean from his latest disc Sometimes a Journey are brought to life by Peter’s country and blues-filled vocals and the expert playing of acoustic instruments.
His recorded sound is, at times, reminiscent of The Eagles without their saccharine sheen. On the toe-tapping, feel-good title track of 2001’s High Flyer CD, I’m reminded of the more appealing songs of George Harrison. Vocally, his phrasing and enunciation bring Steve Earle to mind.
Peter tackles larger humanitarian questions on songs like On This Island and All Fall Down and laments morality’s breakdown in The Ballad of Rachel Davis. He also shows he’s at home with country/rock relationship songs, to best effect on songs like So Sorry and Don’t Turn Me Away from the Delta Tango CD, a five-piece band Peter was an important member of.
2006’s North Ontario and Blue As I Can Get exemplify the best qualities of Peter’s singing and writing (the first of these can be heard instantaneously if you visit his website). Both describe the inhospitable Canadian winter, ‘the trees bent down with snow’. The former is a tragic tale of youthful misdemeanours, perfectly-paced at mid-tempo and abundant with finger-style guitar and dobro. The latter is dead slow, fittingly so given the singer’s stranded disposition.
As with the rest of Peter’s output, the listener won’t be scratching their head trying to decipher or interpret the lyrics. Care has been taken to ensure there’s something to latch on to; the playing and production are similarly refined. Some songs may slip by unnoticed on first hearing, but later you may be reminded of their good qualities, especially if you hear them live.
The three songwriters described above are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of that country’s great poetic and composing talent.
I wish they were all in the charts.