Altos and Contraltos
September 8, 2009 9:01 PM   Subscribe

Female singers with low, rich alto voices?

I'm a big fan of Heather Headley's voice. Headley (you can hear clips of her on Youtube) has this amazingly powerful, velvety voice that sounds especially luscious and resonant on the low end. I shiver when she sings in her contralto range. But I'm not the biggest fan of R&B, which is what she's been churning out for the last few years. Her songs from the Broadway production of Elton John's 'Aida' showcase her voice a bit better, but I'm not interested in listening to those on end either. Anyone know of more female singers-- either popular or classical performers-- who have similar voices? Rich, velvety timbre a must. If range matters, I'm interested in women whose most powerful sounds fall in D3 to G4.
posted by ms.codex to Media & Arts (71 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Karen Carpenter for the win!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:07 PM on September 8, 2009


India.arie. Not all R&B.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 9:09 PM on September 8, 2009


Maureen McGovern, Try out "Midnight Blue" see if you like.
posted by effluvia at 9:10 PM on September 8, 2009


Karen Akers.
posted by BostonTerrier at 9:10 PM on September 8, 2009


Shakira?
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 9:16 PM on September 8, 2009


Diane Schuur.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:18 PM on September 8, 2009


Diana Krall. One of my favorites is A Case of You.
posted by netbros at 9:20 PM on September 8, 2009


Lucinda Williams, Neko Case.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:20 PM on September 8, 2009


Thanks for all the replies! Still not quite what I'm looking for; maybe "luscious" and "velvety" were the wrong words. The main quality that appeals to me about Headley's voice is her power-- an edgy, almost masculine way of belting it out. I love Karen Carpenter's voice but she's much softer and more feminine. India.arie has the right range but she's way too breathy for me. Many many thanks, though (and keep the suggestions coming!).
posted by ms.codex at 9:22 PM on September 8, 2009


I love Cassandra Wilson. She has a powerful, rich voice (contralto), is a gifted stylist, and draws from diverse musical sources. Her voice is strongly influenced by jazz and the blues, as well as some of the great standards stylists, but she pulls from world music, country, folk, pop, and rock, too. When she started recording for Blue Note, she really found her feet, so I'd look at music produced on that album first.

She makes me want to curl up inside her voice.
posted by julen at 9:30 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Had you not downplayed R&B, the obvious answers are Anita Baker and Toni Braxton.
posted by netbros at 9:31 PM on September 8, 2009


Is gospel "R&B?"

If not, Mavis Staples for sure.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:32 PM on September 8, 2009


Diana Krall and Neko Case: getting warmer! Both of these are fantastic. Thanks, guys.
posted by ms.codex at 9:33 PM on September 8, 2009


Amanda Palmer?
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 9:34 PM on September 8, 2009


Dayna Kurtz
posted by jouke at 9:36 PM on September 8, 2009


Billie Holiday!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:42 PM on September 8, 2009


Just listened Anita Baker, Toni Braxton (yowza!), and Mavis Staples-- all women with great low notes but who favor a kind of breathy intonation. I'm not opposed to R&B per se-- it just has several elements that are off-putting to me (that drum-kit percussion, that puppyish heartache about some guy or other).
posted by ms.codex at 9:43 PM on September 8, 2009


Sarah Vaughan
posted by LittleMissCranky at 9:44 PM on September 8, 2009


Oh, hey: Fiona Apple.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 9:48 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Amanda Palmer...that's some strange stuff. Dayna Kurtz, Diana Schurr and Lucinda Williams all pronounce their r's really prominently, which tends to close off their vowels.
posted by ms.codex at 9:49 PM on September 8, 2009


Nina Simone! The first time I heard her, I was shocked that voice wasn't coming out of a man.
posted by lunasol at 9:50 PM on September 8, 2009


Oleta Adams, Tasmin Archer, Tracy Chapman, Tina Turner, Sarah Vaughan, Sam Philips, Patty Griffin.

I'm surprised you thought Neko Case was on track. I do love her, but I don't think her voice is really spectacular at the lower range, it's her haunting high yelp that I love.

There's an amazing Fado singer named Mariza -- I'd bet dollars to donuts that you'll loooove her.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:57 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aw, damn, ten pounds of inedita beat me to Fiona. But I have links!

Recent: Extraordinary Machine and Tymps

First CD: Criminal

Cover: Across the Universe
posted by maudlin at 10:01 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, also, whichever of the Indigo Girls has the low, gravelly voice... And seconding Lucinda Williams.
posted by lunasol at 10:02 PM on September 8, 2009


Oh, also, whichever of the Indigo Girls has the low, gravelly voice

Amy Ray.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:03 PM on September 8, 2009


Tin Cup Prophette. She's seriously ten thousand kinds of amazing.
posted by Eumachia L F at 10:10 PM on September 8, 2009


Fiona Apple: score.

pazazygeek: I think I like Neko Case's voice because she has the right sort of timbre when she belts. I like Mariza too (what a find!), in a different way, but she's actually a little too throaty for me.
posted by ms.codex at 10:15 PM on September 8, 2009


k.d. lang: Constant Craving; Miss Chatelaine

Jackie Abbot from Beautiful South: Dream a Little Dream

Emily Haines: Doctor Blind
posted by maudlin at 10:19 PM on September 8, 2009


Oleta Adams: YES! Woohoo.
posted by ms.codex at 10:19 PM on September 8, 2009


I bet you would really like Tracey Thorn from "Everything but the Girl". She also did some stuff with Style Council.
posted by Edubya at 10:26 PM on September 8, 2009


Nico
posted by brujita at 10:30 PM on September 8, 2009


This is a somewhat obscure recommendation, but reading your description of what you're looking for brought the Japanese singer Mai Yamane immediately- this song has a particularly impressive vocal performance from her, IMO.

Not exactly the easiest artist to get into, though- she's known here mainly for the anime soundtrack stuff she's done with Yoko Kanno, and the songs she sings on there are scattered among a bunch of different CDs, while her solo stuff seems to be pretty much impossible to find outside of Japan.
posted by a louis wain cat at 10:32 PM on September 8, 2009


Patty Griffin might fit the bill. Try Rain or (one of my favorite songs ever) Long Ride Home.

Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde also might work for you, although I'm not sure how well that music has aged out of the early 90s. But I immediately thought of their cover of Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows when I read your question.
posted by bibliowench at 10:33 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dusty Springfield: I Don't Know What To Do With Myself

Rosemary Clooney: Sway

Elizabeth Fraser of This Mortal Coil:Song to the Siren

Roberta Flack: Killing Me Softly
posted by maudlin at 10:37 PM on September 8, 2009


Yeah, Fiona Apple must have gone through a lot of bourbon and cigarettes in a previous life. Hell of a voice. Now if she can just get over herself.

Old school, there's always Joan Armatrading. I suppose she's R&B, but not in the modern sense.

Speaking of which, since it's been 80's day on MetaFilter anyway, there's always Sade. (A world with more bossa nova is a better world.)
posted by rokusan at 11:06 PM on September 8, 2009


Johnette Napolitano
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:09 PM on September 8, 2009


How about October Project? I always loved their singer's incredibly rich, deep voice, though the lyrics and general aesthetic were never as much to my taste. The singer, Mary Fahl, has since done a variety of semi-classical projects (and Pink Floyd "re-imaginings") which I'd be interested to hear but haven't yet.
posted by thesmallmachine at 11:11 PM on September 8, 2009


Oh, and Odetta! I wish more of her older material was up on YouTube -- she's disproportionately represented by concert footage from her last few years -- but this version of Motherless Child should give a hint of her power, as should this "Amazing Grace" (if you can get past everyone and everything else in the clip).

And here's her singing the lovely song Stephin Merritt wrote for her, "Waltzing Me All The Way Home."
posted by thesmallmachine at 11:28 PM on September 8, 2009


Seconding Nina Simone. "Mississippi Goddamn" is one of the most powerful songs you will ever hear. Her laconic yet chilling interjection "This is a showtune, but the show for it hasn't been written yet" kills me every time I hear it.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:31 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Q Lazzarus?
posted by headless at 11:53 PM on September 8, 2009


I've always loved Alison Moyet's voice. Lots of examples here.
posted by seancake at 11:59 PM on September 8, 2009


OP, I know you said that Karen Carpenter is too soft and feminine, but I hope you try some more of her songs. She had an amazing contralto voice that could be soft (e.g. Rainy Days and Mondays, linked above) or haunting, e.g. : Crescent Noon.

And if you're talking power, I can't believe no one has mentioned Mahalia Jackson yet.

Rachelle Ferrell can get pretty deep, though she's not a contralto per se. She has an amazing range, and is certainly very powerful. Example of her performing live (she is amazing live).
posted by thread_makimaki at 1:13 AM on September 9, 2009


Everyone beat me to Fiona Apple.

How about Rachel Yamagata and Feist?
posted by like_neon at 2:02 AM on September 9, 2009


Nthing Nina Simone.
posted by smartypantz at 2:39 AM on September 9, 2009


Shara Worden
posted by trunk muffins at 3:00 AM on September 9, 2009


lisa gerrard (ex dead can dance) has an amazing voice in that range.

i've seen her a couple of times live and was blown away.
posted by soi-disant at 3:51 AM on September 9, 2009


Tanita Tikaram
posted by bricoleur at 3:59 AM on September 9, 2009


Ana Carolina. I especially love the album she did with Seu Jorge. I've listened to their duet É Isso Aí a million times and it still gives me chills.
posted by wallaby at 4:15 AM on September 9, 2009


At the risk of being obvious, Marilyn Horne and Eva Cassidy.
posted by notquitemaryann at 4:17 AM on September 9, 2009


Julie London!
posted by mimi at 4:51 AM on September 9, 2009


Just because all of the obvious ones seem to have been done (to me) I'll suggest:

* Beverley Craven, she was really big in the UK in the early 90s. Her biggest hit on YouTube. She does wander higher than some of the above in this particular example, though, but many of her tracks are quite low.

* Lisa Stansfield

* Heather Small

* My best example.. her name has totally escaped me, which is weird since I own her album. She's a slightly overweight British singer who did a covers album back in 2004 (and tons of her own material back in the 90s). She's probably my most obvious answer to this question but I've forgotten her name. Perhaps someone else can remember it.. :)
posted by wackybrit at 5:08 AM on September 9, 2009


Just released, it was Alison Moyet, someone already mentioned it above ;-) Here's an example from her.
posted by wackybrit at 5:10 AM on September 9, 2009


Mary Chapin Carpenter, also, oddly, Karen Carpenter (no relation. In fact Karen Carpenter had THE most amazing alto voice in pop music.)
posted by nax at 5:27 AM on September 9, 2009


Anne Murray.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:42 AM on September 9, 2009


Adele? She's got serious vocal power and I like her blunt low notes in a few of her songs, like Hometown Glory. .
posted by potatopeople at 5:56 AM on September 9, 2009


Serena Ryder
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxIkRTlX05k
posted by peagood at 6:28 AM on September 9, 2009


Seconding Mahalia Jackson.
posted by orrnyereg at 6:30 AM on September 9, 2009


Kathy Mattea
posted by various at 6:36 AM on September 9, 2009


Marion Dry?
posted by Melismata at 6:55 AM on September 9, 2009


Bird York

She has such a hauntingly beautiful voice.
posted by mrsshotglass at 7:11 AM on September 9, 2009


Ever seen Across the Universe? Check out Dana Fuchs, that woman can belt it out.

Helter Skelter (from the movie--her voice isn't always that gritty)

Strung Out

Otherwise, you could try Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (actually a modern group despite the retro music video)

100 Days, 100 Nights
posted by castlebravo at 8:08 AM on September 9, 2009


I love strong-voiced women singers. There are great suggestions here. Here are some I didn't see posted already (apologies for any duplicates):

Beth Orton

Anna Nalick

Brandi Carlile

Grace Potter

Madeleine Peyroux

Terra Naomi

Amanda Marshall

Holly Cole

KT Tunstall

Shelby Lynne

Lorrie Morgan

Mary Gauthier

Missy Higgins

Shannon McNally

Nerina Pallot (maybe too breathy)
posted by notashroom at 8:29 AM on September 9, 2009


Seconding trunk muffins' recommendation of Shara Worden, but her most powerful low-range stuff is on The Decemberists' "Hazards of Love". Her My Brightest Diamond songs don't come close to that sound.
posted by rocket88 at 9:17 AM on September 9, 2009


Devil Doll?
posted by waitangi at 11:43 AM on September 9, 2009


Couple of other women with a beautiful low timbre since we are branching out a little:

Cesaria Evora
Natalie Merchant
Dani Klein of Vaya Con Dios
Billie Myers
Anouk
Sharleen Spiteri of Texas

and last but far from least a fave of mine, Ane Brun from Norway.
posted by Iteki at 1:42 PM on September 9, 2009


Rachael Yamagata
posted by mathlete at 4:07 PM on September 9, 2009


Shirley Bassey ( sang a lot of the James Bond themes, like Diamonds are Forever). What a wonderful voice--really belts it out. Check out her greatest hits album. Very rich, powerful voice.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 4:45 PM on September 9, 2009


Hey, what about Cher? Chrissie Hynde?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:29 AM on September 10, 2009


Re Cher nomination: check out the well-behaved horse!
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:41 AM on September 10, 2009


Seconding Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I saw her live and that tiny lady had enough energy and enthusiasm to fill the entire hall, not to mention one powerful set of pipes.
posted by Devika at 9:55 AM on September 10, 2009


Thanks for this AMAZING list of suggestions. To the person who suggested Lisa Gerrard-- holy bovine that woman can sing.
posted by ms.codex at 9:21 PM on September 10, 2009


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