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Music Under the Radar: Females of Urban Folk

Stephanie DePrez | Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Situation: Music hunters seek, read, blog and cull music from radio, print and, most often, the interwebs. Music gatherers collect mix CD’s, free digital downloads and whatever their friends happen to be listening to. If you are a gatherer, this space is for you. If you are a hunter, email me your latest find, and I promise you’ll find it written up here. (Seriously. Email. Even if you’re not a student.)

 

Today’s radio stations are dotted with the Gagalicious and your iPods are proudly packing the Gleeful. Today, however, I challenge you to delve into a genre that’s not just becoming “novel,” but is dangerously close to extinction (which of course just means reinvention). That would be the proud position of the independent folk-rock woman. Now I do not begrudge Sarah Bareilles or her place in the acoustic-pop realm, but she is just that — pop music. Today we’re talking exploratory, two feet out of the mainstream women who plotted their own paths, and whose music may help you find your own (path, that is).

 

Suzanne Vega: First of all, let us raise a glass to the woman who gave us the nearly ubiquitous late-eighties/early-nineties hit, “Tom’s Diner,” which you may know better as the song that goes, “Duh duh DUH duh, duh duh DUH duh…” as it chronicles her view from the diner stool pedestal. Nothing makes one feel “cultured” and “coffee-haus sheik” quite like this radio-friendly jam. But this was certainly not her only contribution to the popular realm, as the song “Luka” gained much status when it was released (in 1987). Though her sound is decidedly dated, there is something engrossing about listening to a full album of then cool “urban-folk.” It’s possible to imagine that Vega walked around with a tune in her head, plucking lyrics from whatever happened to pass by. Her deadpan alto, dripping with sarcasm and irony, is particularly pleasing on days when you want to chuck your chemistry textbook out the library window. At least Suzanne understands.

Tracks to Tap: “Blood Makes Noise,” “Left of Center,” “Marlene on the Wall”

 

Edie Brickell: Let’s get past it: she’s married to Paul Simon. All right, we’re past it. This woman is worthy of our praise in her own right, especially since she gave us the opening chords to “What I Am,” which demands leaning back into the driver’s seat and hanging your wrist over the steering wheel. She also proclaimed, “Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box. Religion is a smile on a dog.” (Try using that on your Theo midterm.) Her pre-Sheryl Crow sound is cathartically unassuming and far less Santa Monica than her Lance-loving follower. The lightly-whammied guitars and sliding vocals will compel you to sit back for a few minutes and think about something other than the narrative implications of Hitchcock’s cinematography.

Tracks to Tap: “What I Am,” “Stranger Things,” “Love Like We Do”

 

Lisa Loeb: This more recent chanteuse has graced our ears on soundtracks such as “Reality Bites” and “Legally Blonde,” and pretty much every other romantic comedy/girl power/family holiday film since.  Her roots, however, are firmly in nineties folk-pop. With the hit “Stay,” she became the first artist ever to reach No. 1 without a label. She kept that art/lit/original-indie image up through many albums (and later a reality TV show) as a mainstay in what became “Adult Alternative.” And she makes wearing glasses cool, so we can forgive her for lines like, “School school swimming pool, I walk barefoot home from school.”

Tracks to Tap: “Stay,” “I Do,” “We Could Still Belong Together”