Chris Smither. I’ve been aware of him for decades, ever since Bonnie Raitt covered his great blues tune “Love Me Like A Man”, which I’ve used with students for years. He is an icon of acoustic blues-based music and is highly respected throughout the acoustic music world. Lately I’ve been teaching “Leave the Light On” and “Train Home.” Both are classic Smither originals that feature his solid bluesy finger style playing and witty lyrics. His deep baritone voice, which has mellowed like a fine Kentucky bourbon over the years suits me fine too, although I don’t claim to have the depth of worldly experience you hear in everything he sings. I also use the arrangement of his “Song for Susan” found of the great tribute album Link in Chain by various artists all doing songs written by Chris. This arrangement by Mark Ereli and Jeffrey Foucault is fantastic. You will find some great artists doing interpretations of Chris Smither’s songs on this album and I highly recommend it.
Norah Jones. I know, I know…. “Snorah Jones”….. Yes, she is mellow to the point of boredom according to some but I love her arrangement of the jazz standard “The Nearness of You” and the recent song “Carry On”, which is closer to country than jazz. Both of those I have arranged for acoustic guitar, as I have with her best known tune, “Don’t Know Why” - that one works great for demonstrating bossa nova style.
Aoife O’Donovan. A while back I began teaching her “Oh, Mama” from the PBS Transatlantic Sessions Best of Folk recording. Recently I began teaching her recent “Red & White & Blue & Gold” and although a bit challenging to sing - the phrasing is kind of push/pull with the chord changes - it is a gorgeous song. And oh, that voice! I am certain she has a long and bright future in acoustic music.
Eva Cassidy. I continue to be amazed that Eva’s music is not more well known. Perhaps this is because she tragically died from melanoma at a very young age some years ago, before the current folk/acoustic music boom. She could to it all: folk, country, blues, soul, and jazz. I firmly believe that if she had lived longer she would be considered one of the absolute greats in acoustic music. Recently I worked out some very accurate and not too challenging arrangements of her covers of “Fields of Gold” and the Gordon Lightfoot classic “Early Morning Rain” and my students seem to love them. Part of the reason I use these arrangements is to show my students that absolute replication of original recordings is not necessary or even desirable, sometimes. Eva put her own stamp on those songs (and many others) and in my opinion, the result surpasses the originals.
Steve Earle. After watching him play “Love’s Gonna Blow My Way” on You Tube (an episode of the Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concerts - GREAT stuff there!!) I knew I had to learn and teach that one. Just a fun, old-timey bluesy song with great lyrics and cool finger picked guitar. I don’t give this one to all my students, just those who like blues and are up to the challenge of some very fast finger picking and fast chord changes. It’s worth knowing though if you’re into that style. I know I am!
Wood Brothers. The song “Luckiest Man” has become a standard with many guitarist/singers in the modern acoustic guitar world. The combination of a fairly basic guitar part and wry lyrics make this one almost a must-play in acoustic jam sessions. Although I don’t use these others with students - “Honey Jar” and “When I Was Young” - I love listening to them and always turn up the volume probably higher than I should when I do. Always gets me jumping and keeps a grin on my face. I LOVE those guys!!!
Joan Shelley. Another great singer/songwriter I discovered via the Little Desk Concerts. I use her tune “Not Over By Half” with many of my students, a lilting, bittersweet song in 3/4 that is just beautiful. Joan’s voice is gorgeous in its simplicity and honesty. Check her out.
So you see, I’ve been doing my homework! One of my greatest joys in teaching and playing guitar is turning students on to music they may not have heard. This is fairly labor-intensive at times; I spend many hours each week searching out new stuff and then learning and arranging it in such a way that it will both rewarding and at least a bit challenging for my students. The bonus for me personally is my repertoire has expanded a lot in the last couple of years. Now if I could just find a bass player around here with the same interests….or a good female singer….
Are you out there?
Peace & good music,