Saturday, February 25, 2012

Themed Music: Most Powerful Female Voices

Whitney Houston had an amazing voice, powerful and piercing.  She could rock out or sing the most emotional ballad.  She demonstrated her true artistic talent through her range, her inflection, and her personality.  Houston brought a whole new meaning and a whole new audience to Dolly's "I Will Always Love You" and, through that, she came to be known as one of the best vocalists in the industry worldwide.  Though I may not have been a fan of her music, I respected her voice.  As Maura O'Connell notes, the voice is an instrument with the ability to be used in many ways, something many don't think.  Oddly, men lack the powerful vocals in pop music that women own, many using their instruments to new and limitless levels.  Call me a sucker for women with powerhouse vocals, but I thought it fitting to highlight some of the most talented powerhouse vocals in the industry today, those that artfully master the craft.

BETTE MIDLER (bear with me) is an incredible vocalist with a stunning range and character.  She can do a pop song just as well as a showtune!  We all know "Wing Beneath My Wings" and "The Rose", whether we want to admit.  And it very well could be that by any other artist, these songs would not be as well-known.

CYNDI LAUPER, despite the negative connotation the name gets due to her 80s girl-centric tunes, is one hell of a singer.  Within the past ten years, she's released albums that showcase her stunning voice that sends shivers down your spine.  Her blues album is filled with rich flare and not-overdone runs (I'm looking at you, Christina).

ARETHA FRANKLIN set a standard for powerful female signers, especially those in the R&B and Soul genres.  Her voice is as recognizable as her songs.  And there's a reason why: she's a pioneer.  Her smooth riffs and soulful sassiness come second to none.  You knwo she's someone you don't want to mess with when she sings "Respect", but she can show her softer side on "Break It to Me Gently".

FLORENCE WELCH is a complex theatrical person who you know is putting on a show while singing, flailing her arms about in a synchronized dance fashion.  I can't say enough good things about her.  But you know there's something ancient and soulful in her haunting voice.  I promise you she is some sort of mystical figure that stretches the limits of her voice.  Her live shows bring out 80s covers, which she does so well (and you can hear slightly on F+M's sophomore album), and punk rock.  It's no wonder why people have taken a liking to her.

JANIS JOPLIN has some chords, am I right?  She may not have had the clearest of voices, which I tried to highlight, but she had shown great emotion and versatility in the use of her rock goddess voice.  Who doesn't want to burst out at the top of their lungs every time they hear "Bobby McGee"?

ANNIE LENNOX's true artistic talent was only sampled in The Eurythmics.  Her true voice has shown through recently, demonstrating her incredible vocal range.  The extent of her power comes to us in songs such as the Lord of the Rings tune "Into the West," co-written by her.  It begins with a soft voice, nearly quivering in fear and sadness.  Then we reach the chorus in an explosion of passion, grace, and strength.  Her holiday album lends a new vision to old tunes heard countless times.

MARY FAHL is one of my all-time favorites.  Her Annie Lennoxian voice is classically trained and is open to various styles.  As haunting as Fahl's songs were in October Project, her range was broadened and lifted with her solo album The Other Side of Time, incorporating her "Into the West"-like "Going Home" from the Gods & Generals soundtrack, Mozarabic "Ben Aindi Habibi", Irish-tinged "Annie, Roll Down your Window", and Italian "Una Furtiva Lagrima".  She also released a rare album (of which I owned before it was officially released...luckily because it now goes for a pretty hefty price), in which she covers the entire Dark Side of the Moon album.  Note: She did release it independently as a (technically) second edition last year.  Because I couldn't decide which to use, you get TWO Fahl songs.  I love hearing the contrast of her speaking voice and her singing voice in the live "Ben Aindi Habibi".

SHARA WORDEN is perhaps the msot versatile on the list. You might know her as the lead vocalist of My Brightest Diamond, but you may also know her from her theatrical work or her guest spot on The Decemberists' The Hazards of Love as the Fairy Queen.  She's sampled her softest sorrows to her greatest griefs in My Brightest Diamond and her work on the musical Penelope, a production and an album based off The Odyssey and placed in modern times. But she triumphs as the Fairy Queen in the most powerful and scary villain, whom we empathize with in being a protective mother feeling betrayed by her own son.  Her voice bellows and glows as it comes from deep within, as if she really is one with nature, a tree towering above us all.  To see her perform it live is chilling and emotional, and I can tell you, she received incredible amounts of cheers for her performance.  And to note, she's a tiny lady!

MARTINA McBRIDE is perhaps the best known female powerhouse in the current County industry.  Her voice can rock out, as demonstrated on CMT Crossroads with Pat Benetar, but it can take the most simple quiet tune, and add a complex and rich vocal that surpasses any other tune.  And she uses her voice for bettering the world, bringing awareness to domestic violence, bullying, and body image.  When you hear her suddenly go to the chorus of "Independence Day" fireworks set off shivers through your body, and nothing quite compares.

CONNIE SMITH grew up singing in dance halls (barns, really), bars, and churches.  And she grew up without microphones.  Hence her powerful voice.  But it's not just loud; it's filled with awe, heartache, and passion.  Her debut single "Once a Day" in 1964 brought a whole new level to County Music and set the standard for female vocalists to come.

ADELE, to me, sounds like a modern day, Bluesier, Connie Smith.  I'd lvoe for her to cover a Smith tune, or Smith to cover "Someone Like You".  There's the break in the voice, the tenderness , the hurt, that both express.  And Adele has done it for a wider audience with well-crafted songs and catchy melodies.

TAMMY WYNETTE followed in Smith's footsteps with a classic voice that rang out and fizzled too soon.  She surprisingly didn't sing too loudly too often, only sparingly when a song demanded a certain tone and emotion, such as in "Stand by Your Man", delivering a testament of fortitude and loyalty, maybe even a hint of self-denial to tell yourself that.

PATSY CLINE is the epitome of a beautiful and powerful raw voice, full of emotion.  Her full, throaty tone embraces the cracks in her voice that show utter heartbreak.  She set the standard for female singers to come in all genres with a voice that transcended boundaries of Country to the world of Pop.

WYNONNA JUDD's soul can be heard when she sings in an Elvis-like manner.  When singing tunes like "I Saw the Light" or "No One Else on Earth", Wynonna brings out a Blues influence that can rarely be matched. Even when she softly croons on "Flies on the Butter" or "Come Some Rainy Day", she opens your heart with raw emotional power. 

REBECCA LYNN HOWARD has written many hit singles in Nashville, but when it comes to her own performing career, she hit her mark with the single "Forgive," in which she showed off her stunning range as a vocalist.  When Howard softly cries in the verses and lets it all out in the chorus, we feel her pain.  She's had song recorded by the most powerful voices in Country, from Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride, to those of up-and-coming powerful voices.  Her latest album showcases how she uses her voice in a less Country croon and more of a Blues vibe.

JENNIFER HUDSON is a surprising addition.  I didn't think much of her as an artist until she sang at the Grammys.  Her rendition of "I Will Always Love You", while honoring Whitney, was just different enough, but just as powerful.

TRISHA YEARWOOD, like Martina, is a modern classic with powerful vocals and an impressive range of song versatility.  She can sing the Blues, a Rock song, a Pop song, then turn around and sing what she does just as well: Country. When she sings Howard's "I Don't Paint Myself into Corners Anymore", I break down. She fills it with raw power and transcends genre, from the lowest note and softest sound to the loudest break in her voice, I weep like a child.

MAURA O'CONNELL is from Ireland, but current resides in the U.S.  O'Connell is based in Nashville and is marketed as a Folk/Bluegrass singer on a Folk/Bluegrass label.  Her music is an eclectic combination of Irish, Scottish, Bluegrass, Folk, and Rock, giving her a distinct sound in the accompanying music.  But what truly stands out is her voice.  As aforementioned, O'Connell knows her voice is her instrument; she doesn't play anything else.  Her most recent album Naked with Friends showcases that instrument and demonstrates how it can be used with multicultural influences of Spain, Ireland, and Appalachia.  Her deep tone resonates in your bones, and her live performances are stunningly aching.  I've never seen anything quite like it.

HONORABLE MENTIONS go to the singers with less versatility in the use of their voices and/or less training.

BRANDI CARLILE harkens the same tone as Patsy Cline but with less quality and more rawness.  Her ability to rock out then creatively croon on the next tune provides solid versatility, but her voice can run wild and unfiltered.  Her emotions are so powerful that her voice strays from consistency and quality.

ANN WILSON is only one half of a dynamic duo, but her lungs are full of fire.  You can hear the anger, the rage, the passion, but you can also hear the vulnerability in songs like "Magic Man".  Though, not the best and varied voice, she clearly has a strong one.

CARRIE UNDERWOOD has a wonderful voice and tone, but I think she uses it not to her full potential and actually rather lazily. Her nasally voice can be grating, especially since she sings loud on every song.  She needs some volume control to suit the emotion of a song and bring it to its full potential and meaning.

FAITH HILL has an underappreciated voice.   Her voice betters with age, in tone, quality, and control.  Though she doesn't portray emotion as well as the rest on the list, her voice is surely one of the best in contemporary pop music.

Oh, I didn't mention Christina Aguilera or Celine Dion?  That's funny...

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