April 25, 2013 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Who are some really good contemporary singer-songwriters that perform often or mostly on guitar, but are not particularly better than average when it comes to technical skill at the instrument itself?
posted by threeants to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've never been very impressed with Gordon Lightfoot.

And your point would apply pretty well to nearly all "folk" performers, even big names. They generally don't emphasize skill with the instrument; the emphasis is on nifty lyrics usually. (IMHO) So, e.g. Joan Baez...
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:23 PM on April 25, 2013

I once saw Beck playing in a concert line-up. His playing was so thin that I felt like wandering off to get a burger.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:28 PM on April 25, 2013

John Darnielle is a perfectly okay guitarist, but nothing special. And he's got a deeply unlovable singing voice, and he writes kind of ordinary melodies.

And he's also far and away my favorite living singer-songwriter ā€” on the strength of his lyrics (brilliant), his timing and delivery (flawless) and his sheer energy and stage presence (unbelievable).

Basically he's a top-notch world-class storyteller and slam poet, only he happens to be singing and playing the guitar instead of speaking.

(The late great Utah Phillips was sort of the same way: really basically a raconteur and itinerant preacher, only with some guitar playing too.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:33 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ray LaMontagne
posted by Lorin at 6:43 PM on April 25, 2013

Richard Buckner is pretty scrabbly when it comes to his performances, but he's one of my favorite singer/songwriters: Loaded at the Wrong Door, Thief, A Chance Counsel, The Ocean Cliff Clearing.
posted by mykescipark at 6:49 PM on April 25, 2013

Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal). I've never seen him display much technical skill at any instrument (guitar, voice, etc.), but he makes some great music.

Jenny Lewis? Ben Gibbard? Bosque Brown? I'd have a harder time thinking of singer-songwriters who are amazing at guitar. Singers tend to play rhythm guitar and leave the guitar solos (if any) to someone else.
posted by John Cohen at 6:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to add: I feel bad even listing those people, because I think they're all brilliant at using their guitars to make great music. In my book, that's most of what being a good guitarist is about. Technical skill is not the main thing (and I know you're not saying otherwise). People like Buddy Holly and Kurt Cobain are routinely and rightly included in lists of "the greatest guitarists of all time," yet I'd include them as answers to your question if they were still around.
posted by John Cohen at 6:56 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Billy Bragg. Great performer and songwriter, but not a particularly skilled guitarist. Example.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:59 PM on April 25, 2013

Bob Dylan?
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:44 PM on April 25, 2013

Bon Iver
posted by seemoreglass at 8:26 PM on April 25, 2013

Willie Nelson is the epitome of this. Watch him do a guitar solo ... it's stunted and weird and you keep waiting for him to start. But he's telling a story and he sounds like Willie Nelson, so it's awesome.
posted by jbickers at 5:41 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel.

Mark Oliver ā€œEā€ Everett of Eels.
posted by D.Billy at 6:09 AM on April 26, 2013

Really most of them are nothing special, compared to players like Richard Thompson. They can play well enough to do what they need to do, which is accompany their voice.
posted by thelonius at 7:08 AM on April 26, 2013

I would have to say that Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Richard Buckner are all pretty seriously great guitar players. Not that they play a million notes a minute (although they probably could) but they are creative and in complete control and able to get the guitar to do exactly what they want it to.

I guess I'd just say try to play like that and you'll probably find it pretty difficult.
posted by sully75 at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2013

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