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Cheat Sheet: The Singer-Songwriter Beyond Folk Music

Cheat Sheet: The Singer-Songwriter Beyond Folk Music


The singer-songwriter movement is generally depicted as an outgrowth of the 1960s folk revival. Near decade's end, as the story goes, denim-clad bards and feathery songbirds such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne shifted folk music's gaze off the world outside, including all its myriad political and social crises, and cast it upon humanity's inner realms (i.e. questions addressing emotional and psychic health, existential inquiry, love, relationships, even faith). Though these artists pushed folk into an orbit closer to pop's sonic palette, their music remained predominantly acoustic, centering around the solo performer as well.

What this version of history doesn't totally take into account are those who pushed the singer-songwriter archetype far beyond the sonic boundaries of folk music. Some, of course, were hardcore folkies for years before opening up their respective styles to unexpected influences and novel inspirations. Joni Mitchell and the great John Martyn, both of whom explored hybrids of jazz and funk, are perfect examples of this. However, the idea of "the confessional," the aesthetic cornerstone of the singer-songwriter, popped up in genres as distant as soul, progressive rock and symphonic pop. Look at it this way: had Marvin Gaye hung out at David Crosby's house in Laurel Canyon in the early 1970s, he would most certainly go down as one of the decade's great singer-songwriters. Right?

Spanning the late 1960s to the early '90s, the collection of albums below is an attempt to chart just a few of the non-folk musicians who created some of the most deeply confessional music of the last half-century.