5 Singer-Songwriters You Need To Know
by Brody Coronelli
Singer-songwriters are the helm of the music industry. Calling their own shots, writing out of passion and authenticity, and embracing their songwriting as a form of self-expression for all to see, these types of musicians keep the individuality and emotional rendition of music moving. Here are five singer-songwriters you need to know.
Despite all passing musical trends, roots music has remained nearly untouched; prospering on it’s own as new generations of musicians continue to discover it and keep it alive. Nonetheless, it’s never seemed this suave until Korey Dane came along.
Dane carries a classic cool that's nostalgic of Elvis Presley and James Dean, and an adventurous and literate musical presence that far exceeds his years. This twenty-six year old musician based in Los Angeles has been churning out Americana-laced, acoustic songs with his heart on display since his early twenties. He released his quiet, stripped-down, and heartfelt debut album Loomer in 2011, remaining a sweet, hidden gem up until the release of last year’s Youngblood.
A sleepy, yearning, and heartening Americana daydream, Youngblood is a literate expression of Korey Dane as a songwriter and a musician. With a teetering balance of Nashville-ready, roots-rock numbers like the open-road yearning “Jules Verne”, the quick-witted and dapper “I’m Your Man”, the pop-sensible “Heaven Won’t Let Me In”, and churning, anthemic charisma of “Louisiana Sundance” alongside dreary, affectionate, and low-key musings on “You’ll Be Had” and “Let It Be Just For Fun”, Youngblood is a luminous piece of Americana that pits youthful wanderlust against graceful, old-soul wisdom in a fight that leaves nothing but sparks.
Korey Dane is keeping roots music around with an equally rebellious and sentimental spirit that isn’t to be missed. He’s currently located in LA, but is playing a variety of dates across the west coast this summer.
Honest, offbeat, and carrying the charm of a lifelong New Yorker, Julian Velard is a musician that extends beyond the average singer-songwriter archetype.
Velard has been making a name for himself since the early 2000s with his unique and quirky piano-pop. With his personality bursting through his jazz-inspired musings and a lengthy music education under his belt, Velard’s endearing self expression shines alongside his virtuosity.
Charismatic, jazzy piano-pop came to frame Velard’s music since his 2003 debut Nitetime, but in 2014, he used his home city of New York to frame his Pledge Music funded release If You Don’t Like It, You Can Leave. A collection of NYC musings of downtrodden, piano-bar savants on “Jimmy Young”, navigating the city on your feet rather than behind the wheel on “I Don’t Know How To Drive”, and the hijinks of postponed marriage on “No One’s Getting Married Tonight”, Velard paints his home city in an ultimately average yet subtly romantic light; an expression so vivid that someone with no connection to New York whatsoever could feel its force through Velard’s music.
In addition to playing regularly in NYC at The Piano Bar, Sid Gold’s Request Room, and at other venues across the city, country, and throughout the world, Velard is currently crowdfunding his follow-up to If You Don’t Like It, You Can Leave via Pledge Music. The project started off as a collection of stories by New Yorkers turned into songs by Velard, but he recently changed the focus back to his good ‘ol, charming piano pop that so many have come to love throughout his career.
According to alt-country troubadour, singer-songwriter extraordinaire Ryan Adams, the upcoming, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers is “...a musical unicorn who “could make a jar of sand sound like ‘Blood On The Tracks’”. Bridgers picked up a small following that’s continually been growing since she recorded the Killer EP with Adams at his Los Angeles studio PAX-AM. The EP is one of Bridgers first releases, but if it’s any sign of her future success, we should collectively be anticipating an emotional mastermind capable of making the coldest heart turn with her tender, confessional songwriting.
The EP is spearheaded by the song “Killer”, a folk-driven and musically simple song that far exceeds its execution with touching delivery of it’s raw, emotional expression. “When I’m sick and tired/When my mind is barely there/When a machine keeps me alive, and I’m losing all my hair/I hope you kiss my rotten head and pull the plug/Know that I’ve burned every playlist and given all my love,” she sings on the second verse, almost achingly.
Bridgers seems to come from a vein of Elliot Smith and Conor Oberst influenced singer-songwriters; tender, sentimental, and incredibly affected. However, if the small amount of music she’s released thus far is any indication, she’s bound to join their ranks with time.
Alex Dezen is by no means a newcomer. Making early rounds in the industry with the Brooklyn-based rock band The Damnwells in the early to mid-2000s, he now operates chiefly under the singer-songwriter moniker while also maintaining The Damnwells (who reunited in 2015 with the original lineup to record their self-titled fifth album). Dezen’s expressive, literate, and touching songwriting carried the band from the start, and alongside working as a professional songwriter, he’s expanded his skills to cultivate a successful solo career over the past two years.
Dezen’s first solo endeavor was The Bedhead EPs: a collection of four EPs consisting of three songs each that were released gradually over 2014. With standout songs like the wittily heartbreaking “Death Metal And Disco”, the poetic, touching, and affected “None Of These Things”, the boisterous “She Goes Down”, and distinct, affectionate, and charming “Money And Shiny Things”, Dezen proved he didn’t need the The Damnwells at his side to make exceptional music.
The Bedhead EPs were followed up with Dezen’s self-titled, full length debut released earlier this year (read our review here). A collection of achingly personal, genuine, and cleverly told stories-turned songs, he not only solidified his status as an excellent songwriter, but proved he could tell an excellent story as well.
Dezen’s songwriting is intricate, grounded, and literate. Although his newer material lacks the jarring, youthful temperament of other musicians on this list and is far more reflective of the qualities that come with age, his authenticity, undeniable skill, and experience demonstrate that there’s always a song to write, always a story to tell, and always a moment to be had.
Doubling as the frontman for his band Mike Dunn & The Kings of New England, Orlando, Florida-based Mike Dunn didn’t pick up the ‘singer-songwriter’ moniker until 2015, when he released Hard Luck Soft Rock. A sprawling, Americana driven LP that carries just as much authenticity as it does pop sensibilities, Hard Luck Soft Rock feels like an album that everyone should own.
Taking acoustic-propelled, Nashville-ready rock ‘n’ roll and igniting it for all to see, Mike Dunn’s songwriting is poignant, timeless, and unconcerned with any trends. Instead, it rings of honesty, hardened expression, and emotionally-charged songwriting personal enough that it reveals Dunn’s character while also reaching out to something wider. Songs like “Faith Healer”, “Cry For Me” and “If You Wanna Stay” off Hard Luck Soft Rock are infectious, anthemic, and pulsing, whereas “Girl From Buffalo”, “Black and Blue”, and “Ghost” sentimental, introspective, and romantically promising.
Mike Dunn’s songwriting feels authentic, classic, and wholeheartedly ardent. There are no gimmicks or strings pulled with Dunn; just passion that’s found a voice through timeless, rootsy songs with enough range to get you through the day.