Favourite Forgotten Musical Artists
November 24, 2003 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Why Isn't Judee Sill's Beautiful Music More Well Known? Everyone has a favourite musician who, for some reason, remains unknown and unfairly overlooked. My choice for a much-deserved and long overdue revival is the silky-voiced, eccentric, tragic, ethereal and ultimately mysterious Judee Sill, one of the great Seventies singer-songwriters. Who would you nominate? (Here are a few mp3s of demos and unreleased recordings which will give you an idea of her beautiful voice and highly-strung delivery and, hopefully, lead you to explore her two main albums.)
posted by MiguelCardoso (50 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Laura Nyro. Gordon Lightfoot for "If You Could Read My Mind" alone.

I'm off to listen to some Judee.
posted by ashbury at 8:47 PM on November 24, 2003

Bonnie Koloc but you need to go back to the earlier, less over produced stuff to appreciate but I can't seem to find an MP3 link for any of that.
posted by mss at 9:01 PM on November 24, 2003

Everyone has a favourite musician who, for some reason, remains unknown and unfairly overlooked.

And should we each link to the first Google result for them on the front page?
posted by nicwolff at 9:09 PM on November 24, 2003

A combination of not being mainstream enough, with her odd religious symbolism and plain screwing up her life with drugs, I'm afraid. I think she might have gotten somewhere if she'd just kept herself together a bit longer and played the game a little better.

I'd never even heard of her before this year and am sorry I missed her in the 70s. The demos you've linked to are interesting and recommended. Some of the live recordings on that page aren't recorded very well, though.
posted by pyramid termite at 9:18 PM on November 24, 2003

I'll never give up a chance to tout Townes Van Zandt. Even after five years of listening to his work, I *still* get chills from many of his songs. "If I Needed You" was a hit by Emmylou Harris, and the oft-mentioned "Pancho and Lefty" for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard; those songs, while great, barely hint at the depth contained in his catalog of about 120 songs. Unfortunately, his long-time manager sees fit to dilute Townes's legacy via release of one or two live recordings every year. Unfortunately-- because many are from the last years of Townes's life when his voice was shot and performances were often made drunk.
posted by notsnot at 9:21 PM on November 24, 2003

Elizabeth Fraser--mmm! but i don't know if she counts as overlooked.
posted by amberglow at 9:21 PM on November 24, 2003

oh, and Oleta Adams : > (but she may just be a has-been)
posted by amberglow at 9:27 PM on November 24, 2003

Tommy Bolin.
posted by dglynn at 9:36 PM on November 24, 2003

Guy Clark is not unknown, but remains less recognized than his Texan singer-songwriter contemporaries. He does keep good company, though.

Simon Fisher Turner has made all kinds of eccentric English sounds under an assortment of monikers, in addition to scoring Derek Jarman's films.

I don't think Vic Godard ever got the recognition he deserved.

This thread has a lively older sibling.
posted by liam at 10:09 PM on November 24, 2003

Phil Ochs is probably the most underrated folksinger in history.

For someone more contemporary, I really like Scottish singer Dougie MacLean. Check out "Ready for the Storm", "Eternity", and "Mhairi Bhan."
posted by PrinceValium at 10:20 PM on November 24, 2003

In the folk world, I nominate Loudon Wainwright III. Contemporary, I choose Songs: Ohia's Jason Molina.
posted by waxpancake at 10:40 PM on November 24, 2003

I second Townes Van Zandt, although I don't know if he's terribly obscure anymore. People who only listen to the radio don't know him, but most who are vaguely interested in that kind of stuff are aware of his songs and love them. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'd be happier if there was a sudden TVZ craze, since hearing him used to hock stuff on television would pretty much kill his memory for me, the way it did with Nick Drake when that VW commercial came out. You know, selling out posthumously and all that.

My room mate is a total dweeb but a good guitar player, and last week he overheard me listening to Lungs and that was pretty much an epiphany for him. Now he's practicing it all the time. So, people are still learning to appreciate good music, it turns out.
posted by Hildago at 10:42 PM on November 24, 2003

Elizabeth Fraser--mmm!

I second that motion!
posted by oissubke at 10:51 PM on November 24, 2003

Possibly off topic - but I'll throw this out here anyway. Where's the best place to find out which songs I should listen to first when getting introduced to a person's music for the first time?

I say this because I caved in last week and decided to find out what all this Radiohead fuss was about- and it took a fairly good deal of googling before I found out that I should start with "Karma Police."
posted by PrinceValium at 11:00 PM on November 24, 2003

PrinceValium-I usually ask one of my hipster friends or go to Allmusic.com for suggestions.
posted by black8 at 11:18 PM on November 24, 2003

I third the Van Zandt suggestion and second the All Music recommendation. (If you're a TVZ fan, you might like Joel RL Phelps' cover of My Mother the Mountain from his Inland Empires record.) Phelps is an artist who never gets his due, imo.

Other artists that I wish were more popular are Songs: Ohia (mp3s), Smog, Bobby Birdman (mp3s), Bob Wiseman (sounds under the Bob Radio flash section), Wim Mertens (mp3s in album by album section), Super XX Man (mp3s there), the beautiful, macabre Handsome Family (real audio here), Low (try the beautiful Two Step mp3 here), jim guthrie (mp3 there), and Cuff The Duke (try the Ballad of the Lonely Construction Worker mp3 here).
posted by dobbs at 1:40 AM on November 25, 2003

For all you Townes lovers, Heartworn Highway has just be released on DVD with extra footage. If you've never seen it before, it is, in my opinion, one of the best music films ever made. I saw it about 15 years ago and have been trying to get hold of a copy ever since.
posted by johnny novak at 1:57 AM on November 25, 2003

Daniel Johnston
posted by matteo at 2:39 AM on November 25, 2003

amberglow, I agree, but Elizabeth Fraser is definately overlooked in the US, not so in the UK.
posted by yonderboy at 2:41 AM on November 25, 2003

The Records was a great power pop group. I think Starry Eyes was their biggest, if not their only hit.

Forced to describe their sound, I'd say somewhere between the Hollies and the Byrds.
posted by emf at 3:18 AM on November 25, 2003

And Rachel Sweet.

Fantastic taste in covers.
posted by emf at 4:34 AM on November 25, 2003

The work of the wonderful Alison Statton deserves a wider audience. The Young marble giants LP is what most people know, and it's great but also well worth checking out are the Weekend LP La Variete and her album with Martin Devine (under the name Devine and Statton) called Prince of Wales, a really outstanding record.

Equally overlooked, though much, much odder is the unique Danielle Dax, who, along with fellow oddball and Ruskin lookalike Karl Blake formed the Lemon Kittens. How can you not love a band who had an album called Those that bite the hand that feeds them sooner or later must meet...the big dentist?
posted by ciderwoman at 4:39 AM on November 25, 2003

Possibly off topic - but I'll throw this out here anyway. Where's the best place to find out which songs I should listen to first when getting introduced to a person's music for the first time?

Oissubke's 6th track rule: The sixth track on any CD will tell you more about the artist than any other track.
posted by oissubke at 5:39 AM on November 25, 2003

James McMurtry.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:17 AM on November 25, 2003

Ornette Coleman
posted by Satapher at 6:19 AM on November 25, 2003

oissubke: did that apply to the ephemeral Wasatch Front hit group "Six-Trac" as well?

PrinceValium: I'll throw in another affirmation for Dougie Maclean. Excellent stuff.

ZenmasterThis: James McMurtry -- good stuff as well. I love "Angeline" and "Walk Between the Raindrops."
posted by weston at 6:25 AM on November 25, 2003

This thread has a lively older sibling:

There are a lot of other unnaccountably underrated and unknown veteran artists around. Grrrr! Who's yours?

Self double post?
posted by y2karl at 6:29 AM on November 25, 2003

Mark Kozelek was the founder of the Red House Painters, a fine post-punk folkie band in its own right, but his new album, "Ghosts of the Great Highway," with his new band, Sun Kil Moon (no typo there), is one of the best albums I've heard in the last several years. Imagine a songwriter with the haunting, oracular lyrics and melodies of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, whose taste in harder stuff runs toward Neil Young and Crazy Horse, playing in a band that makes cool alt.country/folk bands like Wilco and Iron and Wine sound a little tired and second-hand.

Why have you barely heard of Kozelek? He lives in San Francisco and he's a recluse, though he appeared as the bass player in Sweetwater in Almost Famous. He's my nominee for the singer-songwriter whom people will discover in 20 years and wonder why he wasn't appreciated in his own time.
posted by digaman at 6:34 AM on November 25, 2003 [1 favorite]

I'll just reiterate what I said in the last thread:

John Wesley Harding

Saw him in Philly last week, and it was a fabulous show. He's got a new album coming out early next year, and a bunch of reissues have just come out (and some more to come next year), so he'll probably be touring quite a bit over the next year or so. Hell, he's almost always touring.

And his first novel is coming out next fall, under his given name, Wesley Stace. It looks to be a lovely bit of genderfuck goodness, as it's based on a song about a boy who was brought up as a girl by an eccentric rich man in Victorian England.
posted by eilatan at 6:53 AM on November 25, 2003

I have several "favorite musicians who, for some reason, remain unknown and unfairly overlooked." I believe I have mentioned some of them before, and these artists didn't peak back in the seventies. Some of them weren't even born in the seventies. They exist today, and are out there right now performing and recording and trying to get your attention. Many of the names previously mentioned in this thread appear to be like, I dunno, retired, or dead, or old, or they were up and comers way back when but never quite made it. Why isn't their beautiful music more well known? Because there's been millions of musicians in the past century jockeying for position in the music hall of fame, and they can't all make it.

It's frustrating seeing people cling to hasbeens and exhaust energies on trying to get revivals going or whatever, when we have so many yet to be's that are in danger of becoming tomorrow's hasbeens, because the audiences are flakey and easily diverted by the comfortable. I'm talking about people who still have that potential ahead of them, but may never realize it because so many fall back on past successes and "the best of the sixties seventites and eighties!" which just makes my skin crawl. I've gotten to the point where when talking with new musicians trying to get noticed, and they ask me like why I'm like the only person in the room who seemed to actually pay attention to what they were doing, I recommend they do covers. Why? Cuz audiences favorably respond to covers. Club owners prefer hiring living juke boxes over hiring original artists with something new to say. It's where the money is. It pains me to recommend that, but I want them to succeed and make enough money to support their love of music, and being cover artists.. well it's selling out but it's also paying bills.

By the way, not that I'm bitter or nuthin, but in the past I used to use MeFi to showcase my personal favorite musicians, and at times I'd get ignored or worse. I don't understand why Judee Sill is FPP-worthy. I would go over here and ask why, but.. what's the use?
posted by ZachsMind at 7:21 AM on November 25, 2003

It doesn't get any better than TW Walsh for me (mp3 - hidden within this blog entry (not my blog) ) . I reccomend Blue Laws.
posted by Quartermass at 7:22 AM on November 25, 2003

Who would you nominate?

Why, Jan Jelenik, of course!
posted by the fire you left me at 7:50 AM on November 25, 2003

Jan Jelinek, I mean.
posted by the fire you left me at 7:50 AM on November 25, 2003

wow, we're this far into the thread and no one has mentioned mary margaret o'hara? i think i will, then. like judee still she had some issues (namely hardcore catholicism and an ability to burn her bridges) that prevented her from reaching a wider audience. her music has a poignant, transcendent quality that can reach past its occasional atonality and her lyrical and vocal obscurity to touch its listeners. you don't just hear her music with your ears, you absorb it through your pores. sadly, she's only put out one album, miss america, that seems to drift in and out of print (koch rereleased it a few years ago), but i can assure you it's worth the search.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:09 AM on November 25, 2003


why does it pain you to recommend to a good musician that he add a few covers to his repertoire? a good song is a good song, no matter who's performing it; and a good musician often demonstrates her skill better when interpreting a song she didn't knock off on her own.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:44 AM on November 25, 2003

I love, Love, LOVE Blossom Dearie, especially this album from 1956. (has sound clips)
posted by lilboo at 8:47 AM on November 25, 2003

Crush? It pains me because, for example, Annie Benjamin is the songwriter of such beautiful original compositions as Breathe, Darker Side of Blue and West Texas Wind. She already has a magnificent repertoire of her own works. However, she would get more attention if she got on stage and played some James Taylor, or even James McMurtry. What she has conjured on her own is wondrous and should be enough to turn the heads of the world. It should be enough, but there's always some drunk pobucker in the back shouting, "Hey! Freebird!"
posted by ZachsMind at 9:25 AM on November 25, 2003

ZachsMind - I agree. I love listening to old music, but new stuff too. I'd rather "discover" a currently active musician than a geriatric/ dead one. Thank god for kazaa. Much overlooked are Cindytalk (the website Cindytalk.org seems to be closed for revamp at the moment. Great, disturbing music. The guy behind it, Gordon Sharp, recorded with This Mortal Coil on 4AD. I was anxious to get some of the material, couldn't find it on peer-to-peer so emailed the website; Sharp himself sent me 3 newly done CDRs (one of new music as yet unreleased) with a note that it was business suicide, but he just wanted to get the music out there.

It used to piss me off massively when, as a gigging musician a decade ago, we would do a set of our own stuff and someone would ask me "can you do any Buddy Holly?" I'm happy to cover songs, but eventually had to draw up a "menu"; one cover = one beer, except "Wonderful Tonight", Rod Stewart "I am sailing", Beatles "Let It Be" = 2 beers. The three beer covers were Stairway to Heaven (difficult to play!), Bridge Over troubled Water (difficult to sing) and Clapton's "tears in heaven" (maudlin bollocks).

Oh, but I do like to listen to "Freebird", too, on occasions.
posted by Pericles at 9:59 AM on November 25, 2003

ack! Quartermass, that's my blog. And, since I've barked a million times at people on mefi for file sharing, I'll point out that that track is used with permission (SL) of the wonderful Mr. Walsh.

lilboo, I also love Dearie... and I always recommend The Chi Chi Girl, Rose Murphy to her fans. If you don't know her stuff, you should check her out. She's wonderful.
posted by dobbs at 10:00 AM on November 25, 2003

Phil Ochs is probably the most underrated folksinger in history.

I'd have to argue that Jackson C. Frank is the most underrrated folk singer/songwriter of all time. It's almost a religious crusade of mine; getting his music in front of as many people as possible.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:08 AM on November 25, 2003

ciderwoman: *heh* I was ripping 'Colossal Youth' just t'other night.
posted by i_cola at 10:25 AM on November 25, 2003

I've only got into Judee Sill recently (after a recommendation from Andy Partridge of all people) and it's a good time to be a fan.

You can get nicely packaged reissues from Rhino: Judee Sill and Heart Food

Also she now appears on DVD on Old Grey Whistle Test Vol 2 playing The Kiss
posted by dodgygeezer at 10:46 AM on November 25, 2003

Irish singer, performer, composer and painter Gavin Friday (formerly of post-punk art terrorists The Virgin Prunes) is what they call 'criminally underestimated' and sadly more known for his famous friends than for his own amazing work -- especially in his hometown Dublin.

Badly marketed and unceremoniously shafted by Island Record in the mid-Nineties, Gavin and his musical partner Maurice Seezer continue to make a living off their music, composing scores for films like Jim Sheridan's current 'In America'. They did well off their song 'Angel' which featured on the 'Romeo + Juliet' soundtrack. Recently, they released their own unique version of Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf', in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation.

His 2001 Kurt Weill tribute show 'Ich Liebe Dich' (7 performances at the Dublin Theatre Festival) is probably his strongest work to date but was only seen by an Irish crowd and some of his most loyal fans who have long accepted they will have to travel far to see him. Back surgery kept him from touring the show more widely.

His first three albums are in Island's strangle hold and hard to find. It's been 8 years since his last solo album 'Shag Tobacco'. The Virgin Prunes back catalogue has found a new home with Mute Records who will re-release all the albums next year. Hopefully 2004 will also see a new studio release.

(disclaimer: I run his website and I wrote and published his biography.)
posted by prolific at 10:52 AM on November 25, 2003

Over The Rhine. Not forgotten, but still mostly a secret...
posted by grabbingsand at 11:12 AM on November 25, 2003

Beaver and Krause. (mid to late '70s conceptual "art" albums, multimedia before multimedia)
posted by paddbear at 1:17 PM on November 25, 2003

As for still-living artists, Frank Morey both writes good stuff and is a very entertaining performer.
posted by notsnot at 2:15 PM on November 25, 2003

Her piano playing is interesting but I'll leave her voice and lyrics at the door, thanks.
posted by HTuttle at 2:55 PM on November 25, 2003

Canada's 54-40 is almost completely unknown in the US. Same goes for Australia's The Chills. Sorry MC, but the songs on that link had me grabbing the insulin. Makes early Joni Mitchel sound like ZZ Top. No offense, but ACK!
posted by squirrel at 2:56 PM on November 25, 2003

How about the most excellent and terribly forgotten Karen Dalton (has sound clips). Sounds a bit Billie Holliday but was a white sixties folf singer with a pathological fear of performing.

And anyone who writes a song called It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best
gets my vote everytime.
posted by ciderwoman at 6:29 PM on November 25, 2003


I wondered if that was you or not. I got the link right from TW's website. Small world. . . (great blog btw!)
posted by Quartermass at 11:57 PM on November 25, 2003

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