My Musical Influences
After well over a hundred written songs I find I tend to write two kinds: Songs about things that actually happened to me, artistically enhanced if successful, or story songs: Made up stories turned into song. What are the stylistic influences for my writing?
There is a lot I like about Country music, the story telling and the harmony vocals and the (often) sparse arrangements. However, I have no time for the macho-sentimentality of much mainstream country “product”.
The main album at the moment on my (CD) turntable is Darrell Scott, Long Ride Home: He is one of my all-time favourite musicians. Not only is he a fabulous instrumentalist on a whole raft of instruments (and one of the greatest acoustic guitarists I know), he is also a phantastic singer and a phenomenal songwriter.
Who else? A perennial favourite is Emmylou Harris – a voice to go right under my skin and a musician of impeccable taste, both in her choice of material (she does not write much herself) and in the collaborators she picks. There are wonderful albums in every one of the last five(!) decades, the first ones of course with Gram Parsons. My absolute favourite (if you insist) is her album Wrecking Ball. Listen and be amazed.
Others: Lyle Lovett, the late, great Guy Clark. Townes van Zandt, who cannot really be described as a great singer, but who else writes such weird and wonderful songs “…the poets are demanding their pay and left me with nothing to say.”? K.d. lang, Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, Carol King, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen.
Elvis Costello was for a long time a great favourite, not so much nowadays. I still think his first album My Aim is True is his best, angry, gritty and with a great band on it (not the later Attractions), an American band who, if I am correct, became Huey Lewis and the News.
What bands? I grew up with a lot of Prog Rock, which I don’t tend to listen to much these days. Bands I still like are Little Feat, Earth, Wind and Fire (both for great ensemble playing and the latter for their deeply philosophical lyrics “…remember you can choose not to loose, find your groove and be a winner, WINNEEEEEEERR”). Pink Floyd I always liked for the wonderfully unhurried quality of their music, almost completely unique in that. The Nice, for the complete opposite: power, steam, accelleration all the way.
And then there are the Jazz and Classical collections: I have almost exactly as much Bach on the shelf as I have Miles Davis, about 20 albums of each. I’ll talk about Bach and Jazz some other day.