Help put together my setlist
November 29, 2007 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out a vocal repertoire.

A long time ago, I used to drop in at the local open-mike night with my acoustic guitar and sing whatever songs I liked that I could find the chords and lyrics for. My singing sucked, but that was okay because my playing sucked too. My ear wasn't developed enough for me to tell how bad I was, so I didn't mind all the suckiness.

Then I got into a band (not as the singer), and started learning to be a better musician. Along the way, I realized how bad my old solo repertoire was compared to what I could play with the band, so I gradually dropped the solo performances and forgot most of my material.

Now I'd like to start doing a little bit of singing and playing solo again. The difference is that this time my standards are higher. I'd like to perform songs that I could actually do a passable job of singing. My vocal range is fairly limited, and my voice is a bit lower than average. Most of the songs I like to listen to just won't work that well for my range. I've gotten a decent reaction to a recording I just knocked out of Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows (my version here). I'm trying to find other songs in this same vein that would suit my voice.

I've got a preference for the folk/folk-rock genre, but I'm open to trying other directions. Other considerations being equal, I'd also prefer songs which are obscure enough so that not everybody will be intimately familiar with the original. (That being the case, links to existing performances of any suggested songs will be welcome, since I might not be familiar with them either.)
posted by tdismukes to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Some thoughts:
Your low voice would suit "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. You'd be growly where he's declamatory, but that could work well.

"Friend of the Devil" by the Dead in their folky phase (off American Beauty.) Ragtimey goodness, not a big range.

"Into Temptation" by the Spin Doctors. (You'd do it completely differently, of course.) Range about 1 octave.

If you're into folk, check out the British band Fairport Convention (post-Sandy Denny). Their guys really aren't singers, but their songs do quite rock.

Tom Waits doesn't have a big range either, but be very very sure of yourself before covering anything of his. That said, I think you could do a good version of his love song "Time."

I might post more as they occur to me. Sorry for lack of links.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:18 PM on November 29, 2007

I wish I could think of a better example, but Cake is one band that mostly masked speak-singing (i.e. no discernable range?) with instrumentation. Oddly enough, I think Luscious Jackson might fall in this category too, but might be tough on acoustic guitar.

Tom Petty's vocal range is probably higher than yours, but his songs are almost built to force his own voice to give out, so...I don't know what I'm saying, but you might want to try a couple. He's such a great guitar-songwriter.
posted by kittyprecious at 4:25 PM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: Ooh - thanks for the reminder. I used to do Friend of the Devil, and it is actually in my range.

I'm not familiar with Nick Cave's work, but I found the music video of Red Right Hand. I could totally do that one.

posted by tdismukes at 4:31 PM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: Papa Death and/or Whisky Dream and/or My Love Lives In A Dead House by Love and Money. I can't for the life of me find videos of these songs to link to, but they are all excellent, limited in range and would suit you well. The singer's voice is a little higher than yours, I think, so you might have to transpose down.

The Hiring Fair, sung here by Fairport Convention, is a lovely song. Here's a version by its author Ralph McTell, who, like you, has a limited range and makes some adjustments to the melody line which might be useful to you.

This youtube user plays beautifully but has a limited singing range, so his repertoire of covers would probably be worth checking out. His version of the supercheesy You belong to me makes me want to recommend it, though it may be too obvious for your taste.

(I'm now a classical/opera singer, but I put myself through university singing jazz, blues and folk in pubs with an assortment of weirdos. This thread is making me nostalgic for that life.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:31 PM on November 29, 2007

You could sing some Magnetic Fields songs.

But really I don't think you should be choosing songs based on whether they're written in your vocal change -- rather, you should choose songs you want to sing and then transpose them to your range.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:46 PM on November 29, 2007

Townes Van Zandt?
posted by iamck at 7:10 AM on November 30, 2007

You could sing some Magnetic Fields songs.

I second this suggestion -- good, melodic, well-written songs that suit a lower register. Some of their recorded output has used various female singers instead of Stephin Merritt's baritone (?), but considering Merritt wrote them all, I'd bet any of the songs would fit a lower voice.
posted by statolith at 9:48 AM on November 30, 2007

Mr. Cobain has a pretty low voice. I find his stuff easier to sing, than say, Thom Yorke.
posted by kpmcguire at 9:52 AM on November 30, 2007

That same mysterious youtube user does a great version of John O' Dreams, which might be an amazing song to end a set with. See what you think.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:38 PM on November 30, 2007

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