For the August installment of #MonthlyMusic (which I’m just barely sneaking in here before the month ends), I want to spotlight the contribution of women who lend their stellar songwriting and velvety vocals to the wonderful world of contemporary indie folk music. (In a future installment, we’ll enjoy some songs featuring girl power from other genres.) Although I find myself usually listing off dudes when I talk about my favorite artists, I’m increasingly realizing that the ladies have every right to be right up there at the top. Although a list of five songs will lead plenty of otherwise worthy gals out, here are my monthly offerings for your listening enjoyment:
1. The Novel Ideas, “I’m Not Waiting”
I’ve only recently discovered this band out of Massachusetts, but the Novel Ideas represent some of my favorite things in music: skillful storytelling, luxurious harmonies, and a twangy Americana sound. Although the members of the band share the vocal load, this track features the group’s sole female voice Sarah Grella. It’s a convoluted tale of a love that’s ending — or is it? At any rate, Grella’s vocals leave me more than happy to hear her story, and revel in the nostalgia instantly generated from the opening lines:”If I start from the beginning, I’ll start from when I was a child / And how I grew up always thinking that love, it is measured in miles.”
2. HoneyHoney, “Yours to Bear”
No relationship is smooth sailing all the time, so if it’s going to last, it’s going to take a resilient, committed devotion between two people who can deal with one another’s faults. And that’s precisely what “Yours to Bear” is about. As a married man, I know first-hand the beauty of being a deeply flawed person and yet being able to look across the room at a woman and tell her, “You’re stuck with me.” Love isn’t supposed to be easily overcome. It perseveres against all odds. Don’t let the smooth vocals here fool you. There’s plenty of honest grit in this song!
3. The Wild Reeds, “Everything Looks Better (In Hindsight)”
Where sweet, innocent beauty and raw, edgy melancholy intersect, you’ll find the Wild Reeds, making terrific music. The band is a veritable powerhouse of female vocals, and this track is one of my favorites. I love the range of these ladies; they can slide from subdued to fierce on a moment’s notice…and then right back again. “Everything Looks Better” is another complex story of love and loss (what is it with these female singers and their multi-layered relational intricacies?), but they could honestly be singing about green eggs and ham, and they’d still make it sound compelling.
4. Sarah Jaffe, “Clementine”
This might be the strangest comparison ever, but when I hear Sarah Jaffe sing “Clementine,” I feel like I’m hearing a female Damien Rice. There’s a rare vulnerability and roughness in her voice that give her instant credibility as a storyteller. There’s no fakeness here, no artificial polish, no striving to be someone she’s not. Unless that someone is a girl named Clementine, in which case all bets are off.
5. The Oh Hellos, “Wishing Well”
There’s only one way to wrap up this folksy playlist of ladies in the lead than with the fantastically gigantic musical ensemble known as the Oh Hellos. This is another one of those groups with plenty of people who can step up to the microphone and carry the lead vocals, but for this one, it’s the ladies in the spotlight. But let me warn you: if you listen to the last minute of this song at a volume level any less than “break-the-windows-and-shake-the-walls” loud, then you’re doing it wrong. This recording comes from one of my all-time favorite Audiotree Live sessions. (Bonus points if you can count the number of people in the room playing an instrument of some sort.)