BY LANDON MOBLAD
Whether it be baritone, bass or something in between (I’m awful at classifying vocal ranges), I’m a sucker for a nice deep voice in rock and pop music. Here’s a brief playlist of some of my favorite molasses-mouthed singers lending their patented pipes to a series of pretty, haunting, romantic and sardonic tracks.
First up is “My Baby Cried All Night Long” by Lee Hazlewood, whose unmistakable voice sets the high water mark for low-voiced crooners, in my humble opinion. For further listening, check out his excellent late-1960s collaborations with Nancy Sinatra.
For the next track, you’ll find “A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off,” the first of three Magnetic Fields songs on the list. As far as clever lyric writers with the ability to craft hilarious and beautiful turns of phrase go, Stephin Merritt is tops in my book. His opus, 69 Love Songs (from which all three songs here are pulled), can be frustratingly overambitious at times, but is really worth sifting through.
I once spent a solid week listening to “San Francisco B.C.” by Silver Jews on repeat while trying to memorize all the words. I’ve since forgotten the majority of them, but revisiting this track reminds me how effective a visual lyricist and storyteller David Berman is. Someone should turn this track into an awesome short film.
Formerly known as the front-man for grunge godfathers Screaming Trees, Mark Lanegan has since carved out a nice little solo career for himself. His bourbon-soaked growl can be equally powerful on ramshackle rock songs or quiet dirges like “Bombed.” For more Lanegan, check out his collaborations with Queens of the Stone Age.
Next up is “Fake Empire” by The National, from their much beloved 2007 LP, Boxer. Not much to say about this one. It’s just a pretty slice of moody indie pop that proves Matt Berninger can sing with the best of them.
Not everyone can make a decades-spanning career out of adapting to an increasingly deteriorating voice, but that’s exactly what Tom Waits has done. Dropping the Bukowski poems set to music shtick of his early days for a modern style defined by tattered rhythm and blues, carnival-style freak-outs and tender ballads, Waits’ gravelly but deceptively versatile voice is a modern marvel. “Long Way Home,” pulled from his 2006 Orphans collection, is one of his most beautifully simple offerings.
We come now to the second Magnetic Fields’ selection, “I Don’t Want To Get Over You.” The snarky self-deprecation and comically exaggerated self-pity should be relatable to anyone who’s ever found it tough to move past a failed relationship, and no one navigates that kind of territory as endearingly as Merritt.
Though Nick Cave’s Grinderman project is known more for its skuzzy garage rock, “Palaces of Montezuma” is an awesome (if at times a little creepy) love song full of classic lines like, “a custard-colored super dream of Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen.”
Leonard Cohen’s storied reputation as one of Canada’s finest songwriters speaks for itself. Like a fine wine, his voice has aged wonderfully, adding layers of rich emotion as the decades have passed. This version of one of his classics, “Bird on the Wire,” was recorded live in London in 2008.
“One Way Street” is another Lanegan selection, this time finding him singing atop a spooky piece of ominous folk.
“Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old” is Stephen Merrit at his funny, whimsical, dry, sarcastic best.
Probably my favorite song on the list, we end with “Too Many Birds” a track by Bill Callahan, formerly known as (Smog). The slow, one word at a time buildup around the 3:10 mark of “If you could only stop your heartbeat for one heartbeat” gets me every time.
Lee Hazlewood – “My Baby Cried All Night Long”
Magnetic Fields – “A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off”
Silver Jews – “San Francisco B.C.”
Mark Lanegan – “Bombed”
The National – “Fake Empire”
Tom Waits – “Long Way Home”
Magnetic Fields – “I Don’t Want To Get Over You”
Grinderman – “Palaces of Montezuma”
Leonard Cohen – “Bird on the Wire” (live)
Mark Lanegan – “One Way Street”
Magnetic Fields – “Time Enough For Rocking When We’re Old
Bill Callahan – “Too Many Birds”
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