Some of the most powerful voices in songwriting today come from beautifully complex heads that happened to be topped with locks of red. Yes, there’s Bonnie Raitt and some of the more well-known red heads of country music. But, I’m talking about a different mix of edgier, current songwriting.
There’s the “original” alternative rock red-headed songstress – Tori Amos – who is indisputably one of the greatest songwriters of all time. No one has ever or since made a piano quite so sexy. Her songs unabashedly kick ass. Sample: Cornflake Girl.
Neko Case has occupied the soulful space with her raspy voice and rock-blues-folk songs. She’s simply a bad ass with a sweetness like a Manhattan cocktail – Bourbon with Sweet Vermouth. Sample: Furnace Room Lullaby.
There’s the ever-so-enchanting Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy, whose lyrics and voice are irresistibly haunting. Her album, One Cell in the Sea, helped me unleash some much needed tears during a particularly difficult time in my life. Sample: Almost Lover.
One of the great voices taking the music waves by storm is Florence & The Machine. Unbelievable amber waves of rockin beats that make you, at once, want to clap your hands and run for your life. Sample: Dog Days Are Over.
And, another emerging chantreuse is La Roux, who redefines the 80’s pop movement of bubbly sounds intertwined with heart-felt anthems that could rock out any John Hughes soundtrack. Sample: Bulletproof.
Now, I have been busy working in the cellar at an Oregon winery doing an extended internship that is kicking into gear with harvest. There’s a natural affinity for winemaking and music. Suffice it to say, I’ve been inspired. I’ve put my writing to work by transforming words into lyrics. I have always loved coming up with melodies in my head, and, I was a student of creative writing, namely poetry. I’m just surprised it’s taken me so long to put both skills together.
I have written about a dozen songs without having my instrument of choice to guide me – the piano. My beloved piano is a Grotrian-Steinweg grand with all of its original ivory keys, built c. 1917, after the Steinweg family had already left Germany for America to establish Steinweg & Sons in New York.
This piano was one of the first gifts my father had bought for my mother, which he purchased in Germany when he was stationed there in the Army. For nearly 40 years it has been lovingly played by both my mother and me. It remains in my parents’ livingroom waiting to be awakened. I suppose it’s waiting for me to settle down into a more permanent address so that it, too, may have more permanent relevance.
I miss that piano and take such great pleasure in our reunions over the holidays – which usually starts off with me banging out some traditional Christmas carols, but then wistfully wanders into classical wintersongs and other pieces that continue to move me – like Claire de Lune and the First Gymnopedie by Eric Satie; Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven; Pachelbel’s Canon in D; a few of Bach’s Inventions; a Toccatina or Sonatina by Kabalevsky; No. 1 from “Adeventures of Ivan” by Khachaturian – and then anything else that instructs me to play allegro con spirito.
In the meantime, I’m writing songs as if I were at my piano, scaling the keyboard in my mind to find the right notes, hearing the music play out in my head. It’s been a kind of therapy for me, as I’ve worked my way through some tough times, not to mention the joys and awes of living in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I hope to record these songs soon. Though, with harvest about to begin, it’s going to have to wait a little while longer. While I have some raw recordings already made of just my voice, it’s way too personal for me to post them at this early stage. I’m slowly growing into my comfort zone with my singing. It’s weird enough hearing my voice on voicemail recordings, let alone on cuts of tracks of me singing without music accompaniment.
1. Banyan Tree
2. Dancing On My Own
3. Don’t Abandon Me
4. I Know
6. Just Me
7. My Oregon
8. Ode to Odin Francis
9. Shallow Love
10. Snowfields of Virginia
11. The Summer Country