Conor Crockford lives and works in Boston, MA. He plays in Tin Flowers while writing reviews, poetry and short stories.
Fred Neil – The Dolphins
This is without a doubt one of my favorite songs. The psychedelic, proto-shoegaze guitars drifting in their restless melody, the light drums just in the back, and Neil’s contemplative, rock steady voice, expressing a soulful, earnest quest for something that he may never find, whether it’s the lover he knew or the peace he craves for himself and the world.
Willie Dunn – I Pity The Country
I found this song this afternoon looking around on Spotify. Dunn was a Canadian Native American who wrote this mournful, dryly funny song and others like it before his death in 2013. It’s the ultimate, brutal statement of a life of resistance.
Townes Van Zandt – Kathleen
Sickly, almost screaming strings could suggest overproduction but instead underscore the strangeness of “Kathleen”, one of Townes’ creepiest songs. Who is Kathleen? A ghost? An ex lover? It could pass for devotion if it wasn’t clearly something else. Van Zandt sings it with the sadness and terror of a man seeking salvation…or something else entirely.
Neko Case – This Tornado Loves You
I always forget to listen to this one then love it when I do; the banjos and drums spin and whirl like the narrator of the song as Case cuts through all of them with a wild, glorious precision, as crashing and beautiful as a force of nature.
Elizabeth Fraser/Jeff Buckley – All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun
A bootleg cut of Fraser and Buckley on an absolutely stunning, mostly cryptic ballad. Their voices weave in and out of each the other’s orbit, creating ravishing substance out of thin air. All we can do is bathe in it.
Henry Lee – Dick Justice
One of the great murder ballads, later sensually covered by Nick Cave & PJ Harvey as a duet. Here though Justice’s vocals, probably more than a hundred years old, come off as hilariously cheerful considering his tale of a lover murdering her spurning boyfriend by “plug[ging] him through and through”. To quote Magnolia, “this is something that happens.”
Odetta – Masters of War
This comes off an album of Odetta singing Dylan covers. Unlike a lot of “Masters” covers Odetta lends more of an ominous atmosphere to the song rather than lending anger, the guitars weaving in a circle in quiet frenzy around her anchoring voice, chewing on the words for as long as she can.
Joni Mitchell – The Circle Game
My mother used to sing this to my sister and I as a lullaby. Now that I’m older Joni Mitchell’s vocals grate but the song, like “Both Sides Now”, rings truer than ever.
Fairport Convention – Reynardine
A song a few hundred years old about an innocent traveler meeting a werefox, as sung by Sandy Dennis, is as “sly and bold” as Reynardine. The guitar and percussion are gentle, hushed, unsettling in their beauty, like a rose blooming to reveal blood on its petals.
Tim Buckley – Once I Was
Buckley would write way crazier (read: borderline unlistenable) stuff a year or two later, but this one is a lovely, lightly strummed bit of folk poetry. Laments are easy to find in acoustic music but few are so genuinely sorrowful and forlorn.