Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In Praise of Twangy Ladies

After Bob Dylan's emergence in the 1960s as the preeminent singer/songwriter of the 20th century, record companies were desperate to catch lightning in a bottle and find the next of the hardcore troubadours (c. Steve Earle) who would, in theory, bring them the untold riches and prestige that Dylan himself conferred upon Columbia Records.

Whether it was Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III, Steve Forbert, Graham Parker or even Willie Nile, the "new Dylan" moniker was hung around several young male necks, a burdensome tag that unfairly served to overhype these new artists and raise expectations for their work to levels not attainable by mere mortals.

Filmmaker Todd Haynes cast a female actor -- Oscar winner Cate Blanchett -- to play the mysterious Dylan in one part of his 2007 movie "I'm Not There," which seemed only fitting to me, as the closest thing we have to a musical heir to Bob Dylan today, in my humble opinion, is, in fact, not a man but, rather, the wondrous Lucinda Williams.

A versatile performer born in Louisiana who has called Austin, Tex., Nashville and Los Angeles home at various times in her stellar career, Williams is perhaps the best American singer/songwriter currently producing music. Since 1988, she has put out six classic records (yes, I still call them records), full of insightful, personal lyrics set against contemporary blues and rock 'n' roll music with traditional folk underpinning. Mix in an unyielding sense of personal integrity, and you have all the ingredients of an enduring artist whose special gifts and talents serve as a guiding light for countless young female musicians who have followed in her wake.

One such performer is Kathleen Edwards. The talented Canadian's debut record, "Failer," was one of my favorites of 2003, and the followup, 2005's "Back to Me," was equally impressive. Her third effort, "Asking for Flowers," was released March 4 to critical acclaim (four stars in Rolling Stone) and cements her as the real deal. She's currently on tour and visits the Troubadour in Los Angeles on May 16. Check out streaming audio of the new album here.

When you're done listening to that, hurry over to this link to hear "Rattlin' Bones," the marvelous title track from the forthcoming new record by Australian Kasey Chambers, written and recorded with her partner Shane Nicholson. Amazing stuff.

But we're not done yet. There's one final kickass lady to love: Nicole Atkins.

The Neptune, N.J. native released her debut record, "Neptune City," back in the fall 0f 2007, but I hadn't learned of it until about two months ago, tipped off by an old friend who has doubled as my musical guru for the past 13 years or so. (Chances are if you've ever heard me talking about new music, it's because this guy told me about it first.)

Anyway, Ms. Atkins is terrific. Imagine a sane -- but still musically fun -- Amy Winehouse, with some Jersey shore girl toughness and a Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders sense of rock and roll fun. Click here for an audio stream of her new record and here to read more about this fresh an exciting talent.

I was waxing rhapsodic to a friend about these new records, and said friend dismissed my exhortations as merely liking the sound of twangy ladies.

Guilty as charged, I guess.

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