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By Damon Krukowski May 25, 2011

10 Favorite Tracks Sung By Male Vocalists

“Canto De Ossanha” by Baden Powell & Vinicius de Moraes, from Os Afro Sambas (Forma, 1966): That Vinicius de Moraes was an amazing songwriter no one could deny, but I imagine when he first stepped to the mic few thought of him as a great singer – but sing he does, in his gruff and unprepossessing way, delivering his lyrics so convincingly that even though I don’t know Portuguese, I feel I understand every word.

“Sodade” by Bonga, from Angola 74 (Morabeza, 1974): Another part-time singer, Bonga was reputedly a professional soccer player before his musical career. In this case, the rough quality of his voice is less a curiosity than an instrument capable of moving nations – as I understand it, Bonga was forced into exile because of the political power of his recordings. Here he sings a Portuguese standard, better known in the version by Cesoria Evora – but again making the feeling so clear the language becomes transparent.

“Maria Bethania” by Caetano Veloso, from Caetano Veloso (Phillips, 1968): When Caetano Veloso had to leave Brazil during the military dictatorship of the late 1960s, he decamped to London – and the two albums he made there, in English, both embrace his displacement and lament it. Here he sends a lonely musical letter home to his sister, the great singer Maria Bethania, quoting The Beatles along the way. Caetano is another singer known first as a songwriter – it was his sister who had the voice in the family. But like Dylan, no one really sells his songs as well he does himself.

“Tale In Hard Time” by Fairport Convention, from What We Did On Our Holidays (A&M, 1969): Naomi and I are devoted to early Fairport albums primarily because of Sandy Denny. Who isn’t? But Ian Matthews’ lead vocal tracks on them are another, though quite different, pleasure. His plain and plaintive delivery always gets me, especially when wedded to a fine melodic line like this. The Sandy Denny harmony is the final push into addictive territory; I could listen to this over and over (and have).

“True Love Leaves No Traces” by Leonard Cohen, from Death Of A Ladies’ Man (Columbia, 1977): I love the way Leonard Cohen works with backing vocalists – live and on record, he has always chosen fantastic women singers to frame his own less-than-perfect voice, resulting in a union that sounds more-than-perfect to me. On this album he made with Phil Spector, the overblown backing track is likewise more than the sum of its parts. I know Cohen distanced himself from this record, probably for that very reason, but it has some songs I enjoy as much as the more characteristic parts of his amazing catalogue.

“At the Chime Of a City Clock” by Nick Drake, from Bryter Layter (Island, 1970): Another production that the singer later disavowed, Bryter Layter is nonetheless an ideal for me of folk-rock arrangement. The beautiful tones of Nick Drake’s voice and guitar are picked up and responded to by a fantastic array of musicians. It’s true that Pink Moon (Island, 1972), with its unadorned performance, is a much more direct way to encounter all that is remarkable about Nick Drake. But there are so many lessons of arranging and production to be learned from Bryter Layter.

“Pleasant Street” by Tim Buckley, from Goodbye and Hello (Elektra, 1967): The production on Tim Buckley’s early albums sounds to me perhaps the way Bryter Layter sounded to Nick Drake: it’s too much to have added to a singer-songwriter’s work. But Tim Buckley’s voice is so powerful, it always rides above it all, and on this track the groovy 1960s arrangement is nothing but fun, making it one of my favorites of his.

“Tudo Que Você Podia Ser” by Milton Nascimento, from Clube Da Esquina (EMI Odeon, 1972): I first started listening to Milton Nascimento because I had heard his unidentified voice on the radio and couldn’t forget it – all I knew was that it was someone from Brazil, so I started buying records with male Brazilian singers until I finally found the sound again. By that time, I had ended up with a fairly large collection of Brazilian music! This is the opening track to his masterpiece Clube Da Esquina, a group effort by an amazingly talented set of players and songwriters from Milton’s hometown of Belo Horizonte.

“Streets Of Arklow” by Van Morrison, from Veedon Fleece (Warner Bros., 1974): I was never a Van Morrison fan – I think the hits kept me away from exploring the albums. But recently, I read Greil Marcus’ book about him [When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison, PublicAffairs, 2010] and realized there was a lot more than those annoying classic rock tracks. Astral Weeks (Warner Bros., 1968) is as unusual as billed, thanks to its remarkable players – but Veedon Fleece is the album I found that I like the best. On this track, I hear a swing in his delivery that’s more jazz than rock. And the flute sounds like Ghost!

“Wherever He Leadeth Me” by The Impressions, from The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story (Curtom, 1969): Speaking of swing: Curtis Mayfield makes every line move. There isn’t a wasted moment in this track, the arrangement is so precise; dense with instruments yet uncluttered. And that voice. 2:33 of joy for me.

Damon Krukowski was the drummer of slowcore legends Galaxie 500 and, for the past 20 years, has performed as one-half of the duo Damon & Naomi, where he is joined by Naomi Yang. The pair’s most recent album, False Beats and True Hearts, was just released last week on their own 20/20/20 label.

Photo: Norman von Holtzendorff

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