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Bob Dylan was more than a singer, he was a storyteller. Sweet beats are nice, and the occasionally melody or guitar solo is well enough, but have you ever considered the literary graces involved in the narrative process of songwriting? Maybe not. For the some of us who appreciate artists who put more than just their harmonic vocals to the songs that we love, here is a list of the current songwriters who measure up close to lyricist Mr.Dylan.
1. Conor Oberst
The singer/songwriter most famous for Bright Eyes gained this number one spot because of his ability to wield a fiery pen, and produce from it liquid, wordy gold. Oberst floated from several musical combinations that curbed his lyrical talents over the years. However, Oberst became a popular household name through his work with Bright Eyes. Some of Oberst most whimsical melodies include “Bowl of Oranges”, “Road to Joy”, “Landlocked Blues”, and “First Day of my Life”, are some of the heavy weights in his songwriting portfolio through Bright Eyes. “Landlocked Blues”, a moody love lost single is a tribute that grapples with the leaving of a lover: “I keep drinking the ink from my pen/And I’m balancing history books up on my head/But it all boils down to one quotable phrase/If you love something give it away”. “Bowl of Oranges”, however, is an uppity lyrical masterpiece that oozes optimism like a geyser: “The rain, it started tappin’ on the window near my bed/There was a loophole in my dreamin’, so I got out of it/And to my surprise my eyes were wide and already open/Just my nightstand and my dresser where those nightmares had just been”. Thank you Oberst for taking our musical experience to another level of literary excellence.
2. Kristian Matsson (Tallest Man on Earth)
Is isn’t a coincidence that this folksy god is number two on our list. Besides sporting the raspy voiced vocals of wisdom, Matsson also has the lyrically chops to shame any mainstream songster. Popularly known as the one man show, Tallest Man on Earth, Matsson is a famous face of the folk scene. Besides his critically acclaimed stage presence, Matsson has the heart of a poet. Taking notes from Bob Dylan, Matsson grew up on the music of the greatest lyricist of all time. Some of Matsson’s most well-known works include “The Gardner”, “The Wild Hunt”, “Love is All”, and “King of Spain”. In “The Gardner”, Matsson tells the song of a man desperate to hide his truer, darker self from his love: “I sense a runner in the garden/Although my judgements known to fail/Once built a steamboat in a meadow Cos I’d forgotten how to sail/I know the runner’s going to tell you /There ain’t no cowboy in my hair/So now he’s buried by the daisies/So I could stay the tallest man in your eyes, babe”.
What makes Matsson a true protégé of Dylan is his ability of storytelling, and his craftsmanship of narrative.
A creative force to reckoned with, Adele shot to fame on a scale that knocks all other contestants out of the water. Her lyrics inspire people at their very highs and at their very lows. The girl can write a good sad love song. Take “Someone Like You”, a gorgeous plea from a previous lover trying to relive her past experiences. Then there is the fiery revenge-spirited “Set Fire to the Rain”. In “Someone Like You,” Adele answers the broken hearts of all those still clinging to previous relationships: “I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited/But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it/I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded/That for me, it isn’t over/Never mind, I’ll find someone like you/I wish nothing but the best for you, too/Don’t forget me, I begged, I remember you said/Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.”
Adele is a female powerhouse who not only bestowed upon us one of the best singing voices of our generation,she is also a writer to some of its greatest songs.
4. Sufjan Stevens
Is it “S-oo-jan” or “sUF-jan”? Either way you rock our socks with your colorful and whimsical melodies wrapped by his songwriting abilities. One of the best examples of his talents are found in the song “Casimir Pulaski Day” and “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders”. “Casimir Pulaski Day” is a narrative facing the fears of early death through cancer, offering up a multi-faceted perspective: “Goldenrod and the 4H stone/The things I brought you when I found out you had cancer of the bone/Your father cried on the telephone/And he drove his car into the Navy yard/Just to prove that he was sorry”. Mortality is a common theme in Sujfan’s work, as it is in many storytelling mediums. In “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders” is a song spirited with happy intent, an entity of optimism: “There was a man at the wall/He was grateful for us all/I saw the Wise Woman sing/She wasn’t asking anything/She wasn’t asking anything/How she made the nations sing!”
Sufjan’s voice is a soft blanket, and his lyrics are a lullaby.
5. Regina Spektor
Miss Spektor is an oddity of an artist for all the right reasons. A passionate lyricist, she takes us on a narrative ride, often ending where we least expect it. Every song is crafted in a different way, making each experience different from the other. In her song made famous by the movie 500 Days of Summer, “Us”, opens a somewhat epic poem telling of two lovers thrust in time: “They made a statue of us/And it put it on a mountain top/Now tourists come and stare at us/Blow bubbles with their gum/Take photographs have fun, have fun/They’ll name a city after us/And later say it’s all our fault/Then they’ll give us a talking to/Then they’ll give us a talking to/Because they’ve got years of experience/We’re living in a den of thieves/Rummaging for answers in the pages…”.
In “Consequences of Sound” Spektor spits slam poetry into a single so original and politically compelling it may catch you off guard. At one point she rants: “The weather report keeps on/Tossing and turning,/Predicting and warning,/And warning and warning of,/Possible leakage from news publications and,/Possible leakage from news TV stations./That very same morning right next to her coffee/She noticed some bleeding and heard hollow coughing and/National Geographic was being too graphic,/When all she had wanted to know was the traffic /”The worlds got a nosebleed” it said/”And we’re flooding but we keep on cutting/The trees and the forests!”/And we keep on paying those freaks on the TV,/Who claim they will save us but want to enslave us./And sweating like demons they scream through our speakers/But we leave the sound on ’cause silence is harder./And no one’s the killer and no one’s the martyr/The world that has made us can no longer contain us…”.
Clearly there is more to this woman than meets the eye.