Generational Reflux

Here’s a thought derived from this morning’s headlines, which speak of violence in America’s streets and the Middle East.

We have been here before.

I’ve made this point in past posts (I’m something of a one-trick pony): Just as Paul Simon sings in “The Boy in the Bubble” that “every generation sends a hero up the pop charts,” every generation experiences its share of discontent, unrest, upheavals, partisan bickering and/or war. The main difference: Our collective memory has become as short as our collective attention span – no doubt due to the History Channel’s shift away from documentaries and to “reality” programming. (Yes, that last part’s a joke.)

I’ll sidestep the political stuff simply because, well, it gets tiresome (few – on either side of the divide – ever change their mind from a reasoned argument or the facts, but instead dig in their heels), and instead focus on the primary subject of this blog: music.

The claim is often made, generally by middle- and older-aged folks (but even sometimes by the young), that there’s no good music being created. Everything is manufactured, soulless, awful. Examples are generally whoever is at the top of the charts – Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Jay Z, etc. That the same has been said time and again throughout pop-culture history, usually by the old guard about the new, is lost on them. The pop confections of the past are always tastier than those of the present for a myriad of reasons. Chief among them: nostalgia.

Now, as anyone who knows me can confirm, I listen to my fair share of yesteryear favorites. I carry large parts of Paul McCartney’s and Neil Young’s catalogs everywhere I go on my 64-gig iPhone. I crank up Bruce, the Kinks, Who and Runaways, groove to Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Gladys Knight, and blast the Beatles, Bangles and Go-Go’s, almost always singing along if I’m driving alone. And I can’t imagine life without the Long Ryders, Lone Justice, Opal and Three O’Clock, whose songs take me back to my college days in the ‘80s. Nanci Griffith, another longtime favorite, conjures the first time I met my wife, Diane.

But I don’t restrict myself to the tried-and-true. Nor should you. There’s always good music being made – it just doesn’t always make the mainstream press or restrictive radio playlists. (I’ve written before how I find new music; it requires effort, but is well worth the work.)

So, without further adieu, here are a few relatively new acts who, I think, appeal beyond the generational divide. Each is relatively young and still in the process of becoming. And while they mine slightly different terrains, they’re all singer-songwriters.

Diane Birch is someone who, thanks to the vagaries of today’s pop culture, has only achieved minor success, yet is a major talent. She conjures Carole King, Laura Nyro and Stevie Nicks, among others, while staying true to herself.

Melody Gardot has achieved acclaim within the jazz world, though in bygone eras she would’ve topped the mainstream pop charts. She’s bewitching.

Rumer, at least in these pages, needs no introduction.

Natalie Duncan is a wondrous, still developing soul singer from Britain. Five years from now I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a No. 1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Even First Aid Kit, whose Stay Gold album is a strong candidate for my Album of the Year, essentially hails from the singer-songwriter genre (and Sweden).

And Jessie Baylin, like First Aid Kit, also comes from the Americana camp. As Diane reminded me, her Little Spark was one of the best albums of 2012.

The one thing that’s missing: rock music. That’s more a matter of my current mindset than anything, however. I do rock out, but more often to such old-school acts like Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, and Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. (I’m a big fan of the ampersand.) That said, I’m told Gaslight Anthem and the Everymen are great. And Ida Maria reminds me, in a good way, of the Runaways –

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