Nothing But The Girl(s): Reader Recommended #1

In my first post for Nothing But The Girl(s), I mentioned that if any readers of 4fortyfour would like to have a particular female singer-songwriter or female-fronted band featured here, to email on their thoughts on to me. Here are a few that have tickled some of our readers’ fancies over the years…

Juliana Hatfield (for 4fortyfour reader Joe Dunne)

Juliana Hatfield is a singer-songwriter from the East coast of America, formerly of indie-rock bands Blake Babies and Some Girls. Hatfield began working on her solo material in 1991 after Blake Babies disbanded and since then has released ten studio albums, the most recent of which, Peace & Love, was released this time last year.

Hatfield’s music achieved huge acclaim in the the United States in the mid-90s, and her popularity coincided with the success of many other female alternative rock singer-songwriters such as Alanis Morissette, Meredith Brooks, Paula Cole and Sarah McLachlan, to name but a few. As a result of this, Hatfield took to the stage at the very first Lilith Fair festival, a prominent all-female rock festival founded in 1997 by the aforementioned McLachlan.

Hatfield lists her musical influences as diverse, ranging from punk bands such as The Stooges and X to more folk-orientated singer-songwriters like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. This has led to her developing a diverse yet beautiful sound that can be described as alternating between heavy rock tunes and gentle, acoustic tracks that feature rich and layered vocal harmonies and showcase a more folk-sounding, melodic style. Hatfield’s subject matter is also quite broad-ranging, with songs that include themes of anger, lonliness and isolation, relationships and the difficulty in connecting with people and even body issues. She looks deep within herself when writing with the aim of filling her songs with genuine human emotion. For this reason, Hatfield has been quoted as saying that her music and songwriting is a form of therapy for her, an outlet that helps her to overcome rough periods and depression. Sometimes this can mean that her songs are quite heavy in their themes, a judgement that Hatfield supports by saying, “happy lyrics don’t come naturally to me.”

For the above-mentioend Peace & Love, Hatfield experimented with a more acoustic sound. Musically the album is the most stripped-down of her ten studio releases, using just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment on the vast majority of the album’s 12 tracks. Other than a wavering glimmer of electric guitar and keyboard, Peace & Love is simple in its arrangement, showcasing Hatfield for what she truly is- an artist that captures a rare vulnerability and warmth in her work.

While Peace & Love deals with topics such as troubled relationships, lonliness and pain, it handles them in a hopeful and optimistic way, setting the tone of the album as Hatfield’s most comfortng yet. A great listen for fans of this severly undervalued singer-songwriter.

In a throw-back to our teenage years, here’s the Reality Bites-featured “Spin the Bottle”:

Dar Williams (for fellow 4fortyfour blogger Peter Nagle)

Dar Williams is an American alternative-folk singer-songwriter with no less than 16 albums and EPs to her name. Also emerging in the early to mid-90s, Williams became quite popular on the female folk scene, touring with the likes of Joan Baez, Indigo Girls, Ani DiFrano and The Nields, among others. Like this week’s other Reader Recommended lady Juliana Hatfield, she has also played at McLachlan’s Lilith Fair and even contributed one of her tracks, “What Do You Hear in These Sounds?”, to the 1998 compilation album Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music.

Also similar to Hatfield, Williams writes from her own personal experiences, with many of her songs being about the people in her life and her experiences with them, what she has observed during her years, especially while creating and touring with her music, and issues that she strongly believes in. Her songs have touched on themes such as religion, politics, adolescence, gender issues, relationships, love and loss. Also similar to Hatfield, putting her own genuine feelings into her songs is something that Williams quotes as being most important to her as an artist. For this reason, Williams’ music can be described as being utterly sincere and pure. Her songs are seeped in raw emotion and feature deeply intelligent lyrics that run off her musical tongue like poetry.

To get a true sense of Williams as an artist, to really hear what she is trying to put across in her work, you should probably begin with her debut studio album, The Honesty Room, and work through her extensive back catalogue in chronological order. This will most definitely give you a real feeling of how she has grown as a singer-songwriter. However, I would recommend beginning with her second studio album, Mortal City, which is one of my personal favourites. With this album Williams moved from an almost entirely acoustic to a richer and more experimental sound, drawing on the use of electric guitars, string instruments such as violin, and bass that carries the perfect feel. She also features some extra male and female voices on the record, further enriching the sound and complimenting her pure and sweet vocals in the best way possible.

Mortal City is a beautifully melodic collection of songs filled with lush arrangements and achingly honest lyrics that will leave you eager to sift your way through that back catalogue. A gem of an album.

Adele

Recently, I got into a frenzied YouTube link exchange with someone who, in the last number of weeks, has become quite special to me. Orders of “Check this out!” followed words in bolded caps urging each other to listen to each other’s favourite tracks, until something particularly stunning landed in my inbox. It was a performance by an English singer-songwriter by the name of Adele. I haven’t by any means lived under a rock these last few years; how can anyone deny knowing each and every word of the extensively-played “Chasing Pavements” from this lady’s debut solo album 19? Or how could they deny feeling a tear come to their eye on one of the many occasions Adele’s track “Hometown Glory” was used in an emotional scene from TV dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, Skins and Hollyoaks to name but a few (go on, admit it- you’ve watched them!). Equally so, how could you have missed hearing her take on Bob Dylan’s sensational track “To Make You Feel My Love”, which was completely done to death on 2010’s X Factor (yes, I know some of you watch that too!). Admittedly, I can be a bit of a pop-snob. I can shrug music off quite easily if it is getting obsessive radio play and is loved by today’s teenyboppers. And for me, Adele seemed to lie in that space I so often ignored, the space where I shamedly banished many female singers who didn’t play their own instruments. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I knew who Adele was, I could admit she had a fantastic voice, but I never really “got” how incredibly talented she actually is. Until now.

Adele Adkins began singing at the age of four and within a few years became obsessed with the female voices of legends such as Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. She wrote the aforementioned song “Hometown Glory” at the tender age of 16, and pulled together a three-song demo while still in school, which was posted to MySpace and garnered attention from music label XL Recordings. In the years that followed, Adele was named the first recipient of the BRIT awards Critics’ Choice and was named the number-one predicted breakthrough act of 2008 in an annual BBC poll of music critics, “Sound of 2008”. She is also a multi-Grammy Award nominee, having won the awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2009. The also aforementioned 19, Adele’s gold-certified debut album, was released in 2008 to hugely positive reviews.

Last fornight saw the release of Adele’s second album, the eagerly-awaited and simply stunning 21. Boasting a more grown-up, mature and more progressive sound than its predessesor, the album is brimming with that spark, that key “something” that makes Adele so special. 21 is soulful, varied and showcases Adele’s truly wonderous voice at its very, very best.

Although there isn’t a bad track on here, I find it hard not to pinpoint a few favourites. Kicking off with the more up-tempo offerings, opening track “Rolling in the Deep” is a deliciously infectious bluesy gospel tune with a foot-stomping intro that will immediately grab your attention. It is the perfect lead single. The following track, “Rumour Has It” is another soulful blues number that shows a more ballsy side to the young singer-songwriter, with invading drum beats that really get under your skin. The album’s fifth track, “Set Fire to the Rain”, while standing as the most heavily produced song on the album, is a true pop-pleaser and is another perfect example of Adele’s always impeccable vocals. “I’ll Be Waiting”, a song about trying to rekindle her romance with a lost love, is another up-tempo piece of pop heaven. I can already see it being included in an uplifting scene from a girly American comedy-drama; think the likes of The Devil Wears Prada and 13 Going on 30.

Typically, 21 is awash with gorgeous ballads, the most noteworthy being “Turning Tables”, “Don’t You Remember” and “One and Only”. Offering a slightly alternative dimension on 21 is Adele’s version of The Cure’s “Lovesong”. It surprises in standing as a moving take on the song that proves, after a couple of listens, to be one of the highlights of the album. The true gems of this collection, however, are the bonus tracks (included on the extended edition of 21), in particular the acoustic version of “Don’t You Remember”, with its heartfelt and honest lyrics. It is truly mesmerising and now stands as one of my favourite tracks on the album.

The ultimate highlight, however (and I am sure there are few out there who would disagree) is the utterly heartwrenching yet gorgeous “Someone Like You”, a deeply sad piano ballad about trying to come to terms with the end of a relationship and moving on. It is so moving, so deeply emotional, that it almost makes you want to be dumped/heartbroken/suffering from unrequited love/all three just so you can sit around in your pajamas and basque in its painstaking, melancholy beauty. “Someone Like You” will give you chills; it is completely faultless.

Get your hands on 21 now. It is already firmly nestled in my list of top albums of 2011. No doubt about it. Just a handful of plays will leave you wishing this album was always in your collection, that you grew up with it, holding it in your hands and treasuring it. It will, without any shadow of a doubt, cement Adele’s status as an immensely talented pop powerhouse and will leave her contemporaries fearfully shaking in her midst.

Here is the deeply emotional and captivating performance that spawned my newest obsession. For this, I thank you, Diarmuid:

Both 4fortyfour and I would like to thank this week’s featured readers for their fantastic suggestions. If any of you other readers out there would like any particular female artist, female-fronted or all-girl band featured here, please give me a shout at elaine.kirwan@gmail.com and I will be happy to oblige.

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About Elaine

Elaine first became obsessed with music at the tender age of three, when Santa brought her a copy of The Bangles’ Different Light and a Fisher-Price tape recorder. Throughout the years, her obsession grew and her tastes developed, leading her to begin her very own blog where she regularly rants about everything she loves about music. Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff features everything from interviews and gig reviews, to features on Elaine’s favourite musical acts, including Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, Ryan Adams, among hundreds of others. When Elaine's not ranting about music on her blog, she likes to go to gigs, run down the stock level in pubs all around Ireland and lie in the dark with her iPod on shuffle. Elaine currently lives in Limerick but dreams of someday relocating to a California-based Volkswagen camper van.
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4 Responses to Nothing But The Girl(s): Reader Recommended #1

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Nothing But The Girl(s): Reader Recommended #1 | 4fortyfour -- Topsy.com

  2. peter says:

    Ahhh spin the bottle! The memories come flooding back ….. of the song not the game! Nice summary of Dar Williams. I’ve been listening to her song ‘February’ recently from Mortal City for obvious reasons!

  3. Elaine says:

    LOVE February too! A lovely day of listening was had while writing this, Peter 🙂

  4. Joe Dunne says:

    Hi thanks for including Juliana in your post. She’s been making great music for along time now and is still plugging away in the clubs. I know we (or I anyway) love having special bands or singers that only we know about but a little more attention her way wouldn’t go amiss.

    I would also recommend her 1995 album “Only Everything” It manages to combine her usual themes (loneliness, heartache, depression, all the major food groups) with proper alt rock guitar.

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