Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Lady In Spain

Ingrid Michaelson
I confess to being enchanted by the music of Ingrid Michaelson. She is a young singer-songwriter in the pop/folk mode. Her songs are exquisitely crafted, emotionally compelling, and beautifully performed.

This is generally light music, lifted by the strummed guitar, the plucked ukelele, and a clear, lilting voice. It is easy on the ears and easy on the mind. Yet the songs possess an imaginative undercurrent that carries us to places we may not have visited in a while. When I first heard "Far Away" I found it so evocative that I felt sure this was some old classic tune Michaelson had pulled from the vault:

"I will live my life/As a lobsterman's wife
On an island in the blue bay.
He will take care of me/He will smell like the sea,
And close to my heart he'll always stay."

Listen for yourself here, here, and here.

A lifelong Bob Dylan fan, I am determined to overplay my hand by mentioning Ingrid Michaelson in the same sentence with him. She is one of our most gifted songwriters. To be sure, she falls far short of the baroque lyrical abundance of Dylan in his prime. But this is a less literate age, and she must be judged accordingly. Michaelson's songs instinctively recognize that brevity, clarity, and simplicity are in. ("I want to say a lot with as few words as possible," she explains.) And her best lines, even when attached to near-cliches and borderline juvenalia, as they sometimes are, seem to me as rich as anything Dylan has offered in a comparable number of words:

"I am a lady in Spain,
I'll sing a haunting refrain.
I am a lady from Mars,
And I can unscrew the stars."

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