Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Gaslight Singers

Artist: The Gaslight Singers
LP: Turning It On!
Song: "This Life I'm Living"
[ listen ]
Song: "Thieving Stranger"
[ listen ]

Lots of folk music from the 1960s is really upbeat—about people wanting to teach the world to sing, or someone having the whole world in their hands, and stuff like that. The Gaslight Singers have some songs of that sort too, but something I admire about them is that they're brave enough and honest enough to also include a few songs on this 1964 LP that show that they've had it up to here with all the lovey-dovey stuff. They've entered the realm of shadows. In "This Life I'm Living," they accuse an old woman of lying and hope she dies. "Thieving Stranger" explores options for punishment like hanging a man from a tree by a necktie, sticking him in a well, or tying him up in the blazing sunshine til he's burned to a crisp. Now I'm not a violent person, but it's true that one eventually gets fed up with trying to make the world a better place with sunshine and love, and darker options do cross the mind. The Gaslight Singers are simply telling it like it is, whereas most folk groups of the era were living with their heads in the clouds. Martha Velez, the lovely female Gaslight Singer, has an exciting and unusual vibrato that's perfectly suited to folk music of the '60s, though it may have been a tougher sell in the decades that followed. (It's strange to imagine that a particular style of vibrato would go out of style, but it happens. Ask Jeanette MacDonald.) After releasing several solo LPs in the '60s and '70s, Martha went on to appear in film and TV. In fact, she had a primary role in director Miguel Arteta's debut film, STAR MAPS, which was one of the very first movies I watched in theaters after moving to Seattle back in 1997. You can read more about The Gaslight Singers on their website here, and go here to read more about singer and actress Martha Velez. Liner notes and photos from the back of "Turning It On!" are included below.

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