What unknown singer-songwriters do you love and think I should know about?
August 2, 2011 7:16 AM   Subscribe

What unknown singer-songwriters do you love and think I should know about?

I'm looking for some new music to listen to, preferably lesser-known singer-songwriters who play guitar. Here are some well-known artists I like: Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Bert Jansch, Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith, Nico, Townes Van Zandt, Iron and Wine.

posted by seriousmoonlight to Media & Arts (100 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Jeffrey Lewis.
posted by griphus at 7:18 AM on August 2, 2011

"Unknown" is a loaded term, but I understand what you're saying. For me, Richard Shindell is the alpha and omega of singer/songwriters.
posted by jbickers at 7:18 AM on August 2, 2011

I'm posting from my phone and can't link you, but: Vienna Teng is awesome.
posted by nonasuch at 7:20 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Marian Call is one of my current favorites. She doesn't play guitar, though she does play the rain stick and typewriter (!). She also sings about a lot of geek stuff, though that's not her main shtick.
posted by bondcliff at 7:22 AM on August 2, 2011

Give Laura Veirs a whirl.
posted by Glomar response at 7:22 AM on August 2, 2011

Impossible to know what "unknown" means to you, but I'm sure glad the music of Loudon Wainwright III became known to me all those years ago. Also, Ron Sexsmith is a must-know singer-songwriter.
posted by annekenstein at 7:23 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ellis Paul. My current favorite album of his is American Jukebox Fables.
posted by The Deej at 7:23 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know if he counts as unknown or not, since he's pretty big on the internet, but Jonathan Coulton makes me happy all over.
posted by Mchelly at 7:24 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest Robbie Schaefer, both his solo stuff from the last few years and his earlier work with the band he's part of, Eddie from Ohio.
posted by GreyWingnut at 7:25 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Tallest Man on Earth.

Bill Callahan.
posted by highfidelity at 7:29 AM on August 2, 2011

by "unknown" artists I obviously don't mean unknown otherwise how would you know of them? I used the word because whatever you take it to mean it will at least increase the possibility that I haven't heard of them… which so far has been pretty much the case! thanks everyone for your suggestions, I'm looking forward to listening :-)
posted by seriousmoonlight at 7:31 AM on August 2, 2011

With over 5M views it's hard to argue that they're "unknown", but I've been working through the back catalog of Angus and Julia Stone and really enjoying it.
posted by doctord at 7:31 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I caught this 17-year-old kid last Thursday called Jake Bugg.

Distinctive voice, songwriting beyond his years, very much in the vain of people you like. Isn't that much out there in terms of stuff to listen to but definitely worth keeping an ear out for in future...
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 7:34 AM on August 2, 2011

Aoife O'Donovan and her band Crooked Still. Came to her through the film Get Low, where Allison Krauss sings AO's song "Lay My Burden Down" over the closing credits. Stunning talent.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:36 AM on August 2, 2011

Rocky Votolato is definitely underappreciated. Check out "White Daisy Passing" as a place to start. I think you'd enjoy him based on the artists you listed.

I'm always surprised when people haven't heard of the Pernice Brothers, but said surprise occurs so regularly maybe I should reconsider.

You can't go wrong with anything from the canon. Most people seem to like "Yours, Mine and Ours" best, but I'd start with "The World Won't End" or "Discover a Lovelier You" personally. Here's one of my favorites, "Saddest Quo."
posted by jeffmshaw at 7:37 AM on August 2, 2011

Dayna Kurtz is my current favorite.
posted by raisingsand at 7:37 AM on August 2, 2011

There's David Berkely. Not only a great singer but wrote a book about how he wrote his latest album while staying in a remote village in Corsica with his anthropologist wife.
posted by lpsguy at 7:38 AM on August 2, 2011

Haley Bonar. Really worth seeing her live too.
posted by *s at 7:39 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Damn. It's David Berkeley. Two Es. And he's at davidberkeley.com.
posted by lpsguy at 7:39 AM on August 2, 2011

A.J. Roach.

Bobby Bare Jr.

Richard Buckner. (see also)

You know about Neko Case, right? Especially earlier albums (Blacklisted)?

You might also like Chuckanut Drive, or their new incarnation, Steve Leslie and the Crooked Mile (myspace, sorry).

On preview, oh yeah, Crooked Still is good. Also along those lines is Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet.
posted by librarina at 7:39 AM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

And will someone teach me how to do highlighted links because, well, I'm an idiot. I'll just be going now ...
posted by lpsguy at 7:40 AM on August 2, 2011

Kris Delmhorst
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 7:41 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Justin Storms, AKA Wailin' Storms. Texas doom country.
posted by zoinks at 7:43 AM on August 2, 2011

Just seconding Haley Bonar, who is fantastic. "Am I Allowed" is a great song amid a bunch of other great songs.
posted by jeffmshaw at 7:45 AM on August 2, 2011

Seconding Bill Callahan.
posted by mumblingmynah at 7:48 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jeffrey Foucault and Peter Mulvey are deep-voiced poetic types, they cover Townes van Zandt sometimes and play with Kris Delmhorst, mentioned above, in a trio called Redbird. Dan Mangan is pretty cool. Erin McKeown is a little jazzy. Christine Fellows is totally amazing.
posted by kyla at 7:48 AM on August 2, 2011

I love Bruce Guthro.
posted by LN at 7:55 AM on August 2, 2011

Not strictly guitar, but very few people outside of Canada have heard of John Southworth, one of my favourite musicians. He’s -- hard to describe. “Fanciful” would be a good word; everything he does is steeped in nostalgia for some sort of half-remembered past that probably never existed in the first place. His latest album was released on cassette only.

Life is Unbelievable
Simple Simple Boy
Falling In Love With The Old World Again

Also Canadian, also awesome, also tragically overlooked outside the Great White North: Kyp Harness wears his Dylan on his sleeve, right next to his bleeding heart, and writes super-solid folk-driven tunes. Houdini in Reverse is my favourite Harness album. You need to get your head a bit past the Dylan sound to realize he's a very accomplished songwriter in his own right, and not just a tribute act.
posted by Shepherd at 7:55 AM on August 2, 2011

Seconding Tallest Man On Earth (although I'd argue he's decently well known). I also like:

Jimmie Spheeris

Jeff Hanson
posted by fishmasta at 7:56 AM on August 2, 2011

Gillian Welch!
posted by gilrain at 7:58 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sophie Zelmani
posted by martinrebas at 8:03 AM on August 2, 2011

Mary Lee's Corvette. Get her CD Blood on the Tracks which is her playing Bob Dy;an's classic album beginning to end live from Arlene's Grocery. Must listen!
posted by AugustWest at 8:05 AM on August 2, 2011

Try David Thomas Broughton.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:12 AM on August 2, 2011

King Creosote - A little bit more well known here in UK.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 8:15 AM on August 2, 2011

Seconding Laura Viers. Keren Ann. The Staves are a band, but just use guitars.
posted by bibliophibianj at 8:16 AM on August 2, 2011

James McMurtry
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:17 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gabriel Kahane! I like his serious stuff a lot and you've also gotta check out Craigslistlieder.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:22 AM on August 2, 2011

Mikaela Dewar - beautiful, soulful voice, sharp writing. She's awesome.
posted by guessthis at 8:23 AM on August 2, 2011

Richard Thompson - 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (amazing guitarist)
His son, Teddy Thompson - Love Her For That (you can't go wrong with any song on his first album, if you want to go to amazon and play samples)
Richard and Teddy Thompson together - Persuasion (very pretty song)

James Hunter might be slightly outside of singer/songwriter since he's kind of uptempo bluesy, but worth checking out too.
posted by cali59 at 8:26 AM on August 2, 2011

Hard to get much less known than the criminally under-appreciated David Hosking. The guy is lucky to pull 50 people to a gig in Melbourne, which prizes itself as one of the live music cities of the world.

But listen to Bigger Than England (YT) and tell me that I'm wrong.
posted by puffmoike at 8:26 AM on August 2, 2011

My family are big fans of Trina Hamlin, Natalia Zukerman, Chris Pureka, Susan Werner, and Nicole Reynolds.
posted by naturalog at 8:35 AM on August 2, 2011

Nobody's said Greg Brown yet? Greg Brown.
posted by rtha at 8:40 AM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Jason Molina! AKA Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. Check out Fading Trails, Ghost Tropic, and the Magnolia Electric Co. album, which I think is "by" Songs:Ohia. Trials and Errors is a great live album, too.

Sorry, at work and can't link.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:42 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

John Gorka
John Fullbright
Paul Thorn
Cheryl Wheeler
Chris Smither

Wonderful song-smiths everyone. You'll hear some excellent guitar work in those links as well.
posted by tdismukes at 8:44 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

David Francey is a personal favourite of mine up here in Canada, eh? And seconding Richard Thompson.
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:44 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Todd Snider and John Prine.
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:45 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Amos Lee
posted by Knappster at 8:46 AM on August 2, 2011

Ryan Montbleau has a wide range of styles. Is he still considered unknown if NPR did a piece on him last Thanksgiving?
posted by a person of few words at 8:46 AM on August 2, 2011

Huh, I screwed up the link for John Fullbright.

John Fullbright
posted by tdismukes at 8:46 AM on August 2, 2011

I'll throw in seconds for John Gorka, Todd Snyder, and Richard Thompson, too.
posted by a person of few words at 8:48 AM on August 2, 2011

Jim White. IMHO one of the best lyricists out there. He has a few albums, all equally great, and does quite a few side projects.
posted by elendil71 at 8:49 AM on August 2, 2011

Better than static names of artists, how about a continuing source of new music? Four shows on KDHX you ought to listen to to get ideas

Songwriters' Showcase (look at old playlists, too, from before Larry died. I mean, Ed's great, but...);
Feel Like Going Home;
Back Country (more country-ish, sill great stuff).
posted by notsnot at 8:49 AM on August 2, 2011

I've also recently become a fan of Ben Sollee.
posted by naturalog at 8:54 AM on August 2, 2011

She's not unknown, but she's not known enough: Mindy Smith

Mindy Smith - One Moment More
posted by BurntHombre at 8:55 AM on August 2, 2011

Though I'd hardly call him "unknown," no one has yet mentioned Bonnie Prince Billy. I would specifiically recommend I See a Darkness and Lie Down in the Light.
posted by mumblingmynah at 9:23 AM on August 2, 2011

I've been a loyal fan of Steve Forbert since he played at my college in 1978. He has a small but die-hard following and tours tirelessly. I truly love his work, he never fails to lift my spirits.
posted by miaou at 9:28 AM on August 2, 2011

Holcombe Waller, whom seemingly no one (save about 5 people I went to college with) knows about. Definitely not known enough - I'm not a huge fan of his recent stuff, but Advertising Space and Extravagant Gesture are fantastic. Unfortunately, they're both out of print, but probably still findable.
posted by timetoevolve at 9:28 AM on August 2, 2011

Seconding John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, James McMurtry and Steve Forbert.


Patty Larkin (excellent guitar player)
Cliff Eberhardt
Lucy Kaplansky
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:38 AM on August 2, 2011

Josh Ritter

Josh Rouse

Joe Pug

Justin Townes Earle (Steve Earle's son, incidentally.)

Sondre Lerche

Michael Penn
posted by emelenjr at 9:38 AM on August 2, 2011

I saw John Grant and Sondre Lerche this year at SXSW and thought they were great.
posted by immlass at 9:50 AM on August 2, 2011

David Wilcox -- check out his Musical Medicine page -- songs for almost any situation.
posted by Cerabee at 9:56 AM on August 2, 2011

Bridget St. John.
posted by Scram at 10:23 AM on August 2, 2011

I'll just n-th what other people have suggested and put my list together:
  • Richard Buckner - all of his albums are great, but I suggest Since, Bloomed and Impasse as first listens
  • Steve Earle - particularly El Corazon and Transcendental Blues
  • Jim White - particularly No Such Place
  • John Prine - everything
  • Greg Brown - particularly Covenant, which I'm listening to a lot lately

posted by elmer benson at 10:29 AM on August 2, 2011


And I don't know how unknown they are but Indigo Girls.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 10:36 AM on August 2, 2011

Kind of Like Spitting aka Ben Barnett
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:42 AM on August 2, 2011

If you want to rock a little bit: Frank Turner is what you're looking for.

For twang check out William Elliott Whitmore

Also see:

Chuck Ragan

Austin Lucas

Joey Cape

posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 10:49 AM on August 2, 2011

I have to give a mid-'90s era Spaceland shout out to Carolyn Edwards and Stew from the Negro Problem.
posted by queensissy at 10:54 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dang it - forgot the link to Stew's solo album.
posted by queensissy at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2011

Chris Mills
posted by smich at 11:16 AM on August 2, 2011

What about Freedy Johnston?
posted by jabes at 12:08 PM on August 2, 2011

Linda Perhacs.
posted by swift at 12:38 PM on August 2, 2011

Already mentioned: David Francey, Steve Forbert, John Fullbright, Josh Ritter, Richard Shindell, Chris Smither

And I'll raise you a:

Danny Schmidt
Carrie Elkin
Matt Urmy
Jeff Black
Sam Baker
Tommy Womack
posted by ourroute at 1:37 PM on August 2, 2011

This guy is so unknown I have trouble finding anything about him online, but Siwel is (I think) a Spanish singer-songwriter (I believe he sings mostly in English though), and he wrote one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard.
posted by Pants McCracky at 3:05 PM on August 2, 2011

Peter Blegvad
Bob Cairns (on SoundCloud)
posted by Grangousier at 3:31 PM on August 2, 2011

Nth Jason Molina.
posted by Drama Penguin at 3:52 PM on August 2, 2011

Christopher Paul Stelling

Strand of Oaks

Bambino, an amazing Tuareg songwriter/guitar player
posted by otolith at 5:09 PM on August 2, 2011

some Sydney ones:

Isaac Graham
Perry Keyes

Jason Isbell (former Drive-By Truckers)
nthing Justin Townes Earle
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:30 PM on August 2, 2011

Mark Lanegan, sort of famous for being the singer for The Screaming Trees, also has had quite a solo career. I still think his first album, The Winding Sheet, is the best thing he's ever done. This would be Ugly Sunday from this criminally under recognized album.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 5:45 PM on August 2, 2011

Stephen Gaylord (under the name Gay Tastee)
posted by brevator at 7:03 PM on August 2, 2011

Second Greg Brown, Steve Earle. Would add Slaid Cleaves....great songwriter...and he ain't a bad singer, either!
posted by kskiivv at 8:31 PM on August 2, 2011

Oh! Late addition, but Tom Russell. He's been writin' good ones and fightin' the good fight since the early 70s.
posted by notsnot at 8:52 PM on August 2, 2011

Tom Brosseau, especailly his album What I Mean to Say is Goodbye.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:17 PM on August 2, 2011

A few of my lesser known favorites:
Matthew Ryan
Luke Doucet
Shawn Mullins
Chris Knight
posted by platinum at 12:50 AM on August 3, 2011

Phil Ochs isn't exactly unknown because Sean Penn just made a film about him but he is still massively under-rated. At his best, he is every bit the equal of his peer Dylan.
posted by ninebelow at 12:53 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Joanna Newsom
posted by Tarumba at 6:31 AM on August 3, 2011

Seconding Josh Ritter and Tallest Man on Earth.

I'd add Joshua James and Dan Mangan (since it's not on his site, Basket breaks my heart).
posted by davidbhayes at 9:21 AM on August 3, 2011

I love Jill Cagney . . .
posted by hick57 at 4:33 PM on August 3, 2011

Frank Turner
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:34 PM on August 3, 2011

I know from personal experience she's an awesome person and gives good stage show

Kim Boekbinder
posted by The Whelk at 6:07 PM on August 3, 2011

Keren Ann
posted by likeatoaster at 8:04 AM on August 4, 2011

Stacey Earle is not as consistent as her brother Steve, but her top songs rank alongside his:

In My Way
Weekend Runaway
Show Me How
And the heartbreaking "Losers Weep".

Basically, get the album "Simple Gearle"
posted by Rumple at 12:35 PM on August 4, 2011


posted by From Bklyn at 4:47 PM on August 6, 2011

Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), Mike Johnson (briefly Dinosaur Jr.), Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs)
posted by vito90 at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2011

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