To me, a voice without soul is not a voice worth listening to.
Harsh? Not really...
I don't want to waste my time just listening to technique or gorgeous high notes. It's all great if it's there, but if it doesn't have a raw, soulful emotion behind it, it just isn't worth it.
I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Just look at where having-soul landed Jennifer Hudson. But lately, I have had the hardest time finding new artists and musicians who I think have an ounce of soul in their music. It's as if all the new bands of today are falling into two catagories: an ainxty over-produced emo-rock sound...or an emulated Nick Drake-like whisper. What people are forgetting is that it's not just about the sound. Nick Drake had more soul than any of these new "indie" singer-songwriters could even wish for. And all this post-punk-emo-rock became popular because the founding musicians who created the sound had a great deal of passion for it...and (unfortunately) it spoke to a lot of ainxty teens. Ha.
Sam Cooke is a god to me. He is the king of soul. Or Mr. Soul, as they called him. Everyone knows that. I grew up worshiping that man and his voice and I still do. But you don't have to be a motown artist from the 60s to have soul. Just look at Rufus Wainwright, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, Damien Rice, Sufjan Stevens, John Lennon...Freddy Mercury! These are hardly the names you would think of at first when someone mentioned "soul"...but that's what these artist have/had, which is what has made them so special. Judy Garland wasn't an incredible vocalist but the woman could sing! What poured out of her mouth was a sound that was so emotionally and deeply rooted, it continues to bring millions to tears. A voice like hers captivates. It draws you in and makes you loose your breath until her final sigh.
Soul is the difference between a Musical theatre star and a Musical theatre lead. Legends are born on stage in New York because of their ability to access their emotional root and vulnerability through song. Sutton Foster is such a force right now because she feels every lyric, every note, every rise and fall...no matter how cheesy. Victoria Clark can melt you as soon as her mouth opens because she is inspired by her material and lets the music take her on a ride. These performers aren't just singing their songs, they are experiencing them. They have a true passion and awareness of music and it's emotional effect. It is simply thrilling when a performer has the ability to give so much to their audience. I believe you have to be a very vulnerable and open person to have that skill.
That skill carries through onto a recording. Singing should never be about making one clean and clear take. The most haunting, thrilling, and heartbreaking recordings are full of imperfections. Sam Cooke's voice wasn't a masterpeice, neither was Ella Fitzgeralds. What they brought to their sound, and the emotional gut they brought to every note, was beyond masterful. It was genius.
Music is my greatest passion. I am always on the hunt for new artists. I am going to start posting about the new artists that I come across...or what I'm listening to. I'm out to find the soulful pop artists of today!
Who can I tell you about right now? There are a couple of British imports to look at. Amy Winehouse is huge in the UK right now. Her twist of contemporary R&B and Billy Holiday-like howl might be why. Download "Rehab". Also look at Paolo Nutini. At only 19, has a shockingly gripping voice. His lyrics are at times a bit juevenille, but they are typically very moving. His voice is so mature and so far beyond his years...it's very easy to forget his age. The guy has got something special. Download "These Streets."