There has always been something special about the troubadour. The lone gun singer-songwriter with something to say. Something so personal and powerful, it’s best not to have band mates get in the way. Go deep with Tash Sultana, Kevin Morby, Johnny Lloyd, SOAK, Yola, BESS ATWELL, BIBLIO and friends.
There are more troubadours on the circuit now than there ever were (perhaps that can be said for all types of artists if it’s true that 40,000 songs are being uploaded to Spotify every day). In today’s financially-pressured music world, the troubadour is an easier model to work with: cheaper for the label to sign, cheaper to go on tour and more financially efficient for the artist. Harder work mind, and surely more pressure too, something we can only marvel at when you take into account Ed Sheeran headlining Glastonbury in 2017 – all by his own self.
But the Glasto crowd was rooting for Ed from the start. The UK listener seems to have a particular fondness for the troubadour, which has been analysed by the music press lately as the sad young white guy syndrome. The UK Guardian described them as a collective: “soulful, tattooed, wearing hats and…absolutely everywhere”. We’ll mention no names here as this might confuse the search engines as to what this playlist actually contains, for New Troubadours moves us in a somewhat different direction (well, what did you expect?). After all, the pale white boys don’t really need another rung on the ladder, they are doing better than fine (so why don’t they all cheer up a bit and maybe put on a clean t-shirt while they’re about it?).
We take a more global view however, so let’s focus in who’s here. We lead off with Melbourne’s Tash Sultana (come on who else) and she just had to take the cover. An exemplar of the troubadour’s raison d'être, Sultana’s music is expansive and can drift outside of conventional song structures, just because that’s what you have license to do if you play all the instruments yourself! Satisfyingly, she gets better and better. But Tash leads a formidably talented bunch here. Some names perhaps you know: Mac DeMarco, Kevin Morby (mmm, the L.A. based indie singer-songwriters seem to be on a roll). And some you perhaps don’t: Aldous Harding, Julia Jacklin (mmm, the Antipodean scene is right up there too). And we have some artists known to have appeared previously on TSS: Joe Slater, SOAK, VC Pines, Steve Gunn, Hand Habits.
We’re excited to have everyone here together in one fabulously philosophical playlist, full of songs unafraid to be different and not succumbing to the ‘six-seconds to the hook’ rule that dominates the top songs on streaming platforms these days. Let’s hope many of these artists can slow-burn their way to longevity, since we’d love to see how each and every one of them can develop and work towards potential masterpieces. The music scene needs a few more of those.
Speaking of longevity, the ultimate troubadour – Elton John - remains ubiquitous (thanks to John Lewis and Snickers ads, though we’re not sure these are shining examples of the fruits of artistic longevity but never mind) and his very own blockbuster movie. That’s more like it then – to think maybe any one of these artists will feature in their own blockbuster movie a few decades from now. We live in hope.
Playback notes: come on, how long have we spent scheduling this one? Oh what the hell, go ahead, shuffle – but always save Holly Herndon until last and don’t you dare hit skip!
Look out for MacDemarco’s new album ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’, and also Rosie Lowe’s new LP ‘YU’, from 10th May. And that Elton John movie – we doubt you’ll fail to notice that one.
Do you like a piano based troubadour? Our very own super talented contemporary classical pianist Andrew James Johnson will be curating his favourite piano-based bangers very soon.
Some names on this list are about to make appearances at Brighton’s wonderful Great Escape festival, where The Song Sommelier is also making a first public appearance with talks on the subject of playlist innovation. We’ll be stopping by to catch Bess Atwell, Amy May Ellis, Benedict Benjamin and Oh Land (whom we introduce next time). We just love this.