This is Joanna Newsom, singing her song “Sprout and Bean.” It’s a beautiful tune, but let’s face it: she has a weird voice: unschooled, childlike, amateurish. Her singing is not bad, it’s in tune, you can understand the words, but it still sounds weird.
Her quiet harp accompaniment does little to hide the idiosyncrasies, and there’s not a lot of studio magic that can make Joanna Newsom sound like more mainstream singers. But part of the reason I like the song and the performance is the strangeness of her voice.
It’s rare to hear a singer willing to be so individual. There’s a bravery in doing things your own way, a certain naughtiness to breaking the rules that makes the listener feel like they’re privy to something real and personal. Weird is not the same as ugly; there’s beauty in her simple delivery. Often the meaning of a song doesn’t call for the trappings of what we think of as “good” singing: high notes, wide vibrato, long-held fermatas.
That’s the way I feel about Bob Dylan’s singing. Everyone complains about his voice, but I don’t think a trained opera singer would be able to make “Like a Rolling Stone” any more meaningful than he does.
Sometimes it’s the weirdness that makes good music good.
Tom Waits, “Reeperbahn,” Alice (2002)
his voice has been described as "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car."
Album of songs written for a play by Robert Wilson