A Tale of Two Singers

Last night I had the opportunity to take in a performance by a young singer-songwriter-guitarist named Adam Dale. I understand he’s originally from the Shreveport area but now based out of Baton Rouge. He plays a mix of original material and originally arranged covers that run the gamut from political satire to straight up rave up, all in a style that while definitely unique reminds me of a number of other performers, including but not limited to Dave Matthews and my good friend from Berklee, Aaron Flinn.

In particular, the parallels with Aaron were remarkable.

Both are very intricate and rhythmic guitarists, who manage to be delicate, dynamic and driving at the same time – which is no mean feat, I can tell you from 30 years of guitar-playing experience. It’s not any easy thing for any guitarist except Richie Havens to fill so much space without sounding like a repetitious drone. For good reason, Aaron has been recognized as the best acoustic guitarist in Vermont. I venture that Adam could fare likewise were such a competition held in Louisiana.

Both have very dramatic, one might almost say operatic, voices that they employ from a whisper to a scream to first draw you in and then almost knock you senseless. Their lyrics, too, have a cryptic feel and course with an ultra-personal and almost secret sense of meaning, and seem to weave perfectly between the polyrhythms of the guitar on their voices. Adam and Aaron both use quite a bit of falsetto; when I first heard Aaron sing, I thought immediately of Kate Bush, or Tori Amos. I still draw the comparison, vocal-wise, and do the same with Adam.

Then there is the physical showmanship. I guess having started as a classical musician (violin and clarinet), and then as an upright jazz bass player before I learned to rock, I never really learned (or rather, was taught to inhibit) the art of movement while playing. John Mayer’s got the art. Joe Cocker has it (in you might say a Picasso sort of fashion). Aaron Flinn and Adam Dale have it. Onstage, they keep moving. Always in motion, always (if eyes not closed in a moment of deep emotion or pique) in contact with their audience. In tandem with, or as counterpoint to, the jump-stop guitar chuka-chuck; approaching and retreating from the mic with the grace of swans. Myself, I’m more like a walrus. Not so interesting to watch.

I have seen and performed with Aaron numerous times in an acoustic setting. I have now experienced Adam Dale in similar surroundings. Both artists (and they are truly artists, definitely deserving of greater public acclaim, distribution and critical attention) also front full-scale electric bands. I’ve heard recordings of these efforts, but never seen them live and electric. I’m sure these shows are, no pun intended, electrifying, if they are anything like the acoustic shows, but bigger and more grandiose.

But there’s one area, I think, where both Aaron and Adam miss the mark. Both, in my opinion, have gorgeous and pure, clear voices. The majority of their vocal delivery, however, masks this underlying beauty with a kind of affectation, a deliberate quirkiness that runs the gamut from Stan Ridgeway to Tim Curry. Even when they’re singing ballads, they tend to truncate the notes, do some range jumping calisthenics and maintain a certain distance from what I can judge is a massive volume of pure tone. Both are large men with large voices; both are certainly effectively emotional singers. But I think both Adam and Aaron are a little afraid of their voices sounding gorgeous. Of casting aside all gimmickry and showmanship, all the fabulous guitar noodling, and simply stopping you dead in your tracks with sheer beauty. Because beauty, and that kind of exposing of the soul, is not what’s hip. It’s never been, nor probably never will be, cool to remind people that they don’t pay attention to what’s really important. It’s a scary thing to do, I must admit. I’ve only managed it on one or two occasions, and one of those was in private. Neither one of those times did I come close to what I think Aaron or Adam is capable of — because I’m more or less a trained singer, while these two are naturals.

Both Aaron Flinn and Adam Dale are capable of that kind of beauty, intrinsically. I’ve heard what they can do onstage. I’ve been in awe of the way they combine their vocals with their obvious guitar prowess. To put it in a clumsy metaphor, I’ve heard Saturday night. But I want Sunday morning. Take me to church, so to speak. I for one would love to hear it.

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