Here’s the thing about female singer-songwriters: for the most part, they are boring, bland and indistinguishable. Wait a minute, you might say, is this not an unfair and broad generalization? Shouldn’t every record be judged in a vacuum? To put it bluntly, no. While there shouldn’t be anything inherently dull about a lady with an acoustic guitar, the ugly truth is that there are just too many of them. Just like there are too many dudes in metal bands, too many dudes in forgettable four-piece generic guitar rock bands, too many dudes in music.
Why does everyone get so pumped about chicks who play drums or lead screamo bands or write music that actually rocks? Because they are an anomaly; because a girl armed with something more than a politely melodious guitar or piano is EXCITING and DIFFERENT. While we need more women in music – heck, we need more women in nearly every profession – it is startling how many of the women who choose to make music make this Lite White Bread/Coffeehouse variety. And frankly, it sucks.
Shelby Earl does not deserve to get shit on simply because of the bigger-picture problem in music. She’s a cool lady! She quit her biz job at Amazon in her mid-thirties, made music a full-time endeavor, and has managed to do well for herself. If you can make a living by making music, then kudos-– you’re an outlier. Her lyrics are clever and thoughtful. Other reviewers have praised her cutting lyrical content, and they’re not wrong. But without enticing melodies, or the X factor that makes an artist unforgettable, poetic lyrics are perhaps better left in a book of poems.
Earl’s latest record Swift Arrows has some standout moments, and some songs that will make fabulous soundtrack pieces & weekend NPR fodder. “The Artist,” co-written with Lance Pain, is a delightful depiction of what it’s like to cohabitate with an artist (and if you’re an artist yourself, this song might make you think about sharing the mirror more with your significant other).
Overall, the record is not bad. It’s an okay effort by a gifted gal. But three weeks from first listen, it would be difficult to pick her out from a sonic lineup. And thus, another album bites the dust, fading unceremoniously into the sea of flavorless acoustic girl jams. Ladies like Regina Spektor, Feist, Bat for Lashes, Lorde, Kimbra, Aimee Mann, Marnie Stern, A Fine Frenzy, Carina Round, and Amanda Palmer prove it is POSSIBLE to stand out from the pack, and make singer-songwriter pop music that stands the test of time and keeps audiences coming back for more. The Coffee Shop is the kitchen of pop music. It’s time to get out of it, bitches. It’s time to do better.