Free and legal MP3: Shelby Earl (sad, strong, slowly swinging)

Shelby Earl is a new singer/songwriter who sounds like an old one. I mean that in the best of ways.

Shelby Earl

“Under Evergreen” – Shelby Earl

Some songs, to paraphrase William Shakespeare (badly), are born great; others have greatness thrust upon them. “Under Evergreen” as a song is simple and torchy, a song to fade into the background or rise to the foreground based less on its intrinsic qualities than on the strength and spirit the singer brings to it.

Earl enters the piece on her own, singing the words “I look around” before the instruments begin playing. This itself is a wonderful, subtle statement, alerting us before we can fully register it that we are dealing with a singer of arresting power and poise. And let’s hear it for how poise tempers power; while “X Factor” histrionics on the one hand and runaway robotics on the other have overrun pop singing at the mass-market level, Earl single-handedly confirms the heart-breaking effect of vocal strength and tone when used with discipline and without fetishistic techno-fads. She is a new singer/songwriter who sounds like an old one. I mean that in the best of ways. (Even her god-given name sounds like an old singer/songwriter.) Under her guidance, “Under Evergreen” becomes three minutes and forty-three seconds of sad, strong, slowly swinging greatness.

The song is part of Earl’s debut album, Burn the Boats, set for release at the beginning of November on Local 638 Records, the Seattle-based label owned by Rachel Flotard. Earl by the way spent many years working at relatively high-level music-industry day jobs, trying to get the musician thing going at night. Late in 2009, she made the leap, working as a waitress to pay the rent but otherwise focusing on following her musical bliss. Lord knows how this will work out for her as a lifestyle decision but as an artistic decision it was a no-brainer. I’ve been listening to the whole album and she is without question the real thing.

Free and legal MP3: Marissa Nadler (torchy & reverbed, but also sharp & immediate)

Marissa Nadler

“Baby, I Will Leave You in the Morning” – Marissa Nadler

Torchy, reverby, and nostalgic, but also sharp, disciplined, and genuinely dramatic. Not to mention gorgeous.

Pay attention to how the reverb in Nadler’s creamy voice blends seamlessly with the spacey, Pink Floyd-ish guitars which soar in the distance below. This is why the song doesn’t get bogged down in echoey mud—there’s a lot going on outside the reverb that keeps the ear grounded in immediacy. The crisp acoustic guitar that emerges with a tinkling chord every now and then is a case in point; it is recorded so immaculately that you can sometimes hear fingers on strings (check out 0:58 if you don’t believe it).

Meanwhile, the composition’s abiding drama is built on a structure that has the song modulate upward with each return to the home melody, a musical fact that gains sly lyrical support near the end as Nadler sings “I am getting higher by the moment” (2:55).

“Baby, I Will Leave You in the Morning” is a track from her forthcoming self-titled album, which was funded via Kickstarter. This will be the fifth full-length release for the Boston-based singer/songwriter, who turns 30 in early April. She was previously featured here in 2007 and 2009.