I first heard Richard Shindell when I was shopping at Suzanne Bell’s in Vancouver. I heard him as part of a folk super group called Cry Cry Cry. Together with Lucy Kaplansky and Dar Williams they released an album of cover songs. The song I really liked was ‘Cold Missouri Waters.’ It was a song written by James Keelaghan originally. The harmonies in this song provided by Dar Williams and Lucy Kaplansky are fabulous. They covered not only other artists’ songs but each others as well. Dar Williams’ version of ‘The Ballad of Mary Magdalene’ written by Richard Shindell is great. She brings another level to that song that surpasses the original.
Richard Shindell is a master storyteller in his songs. Shindell’s first album, Sparrow’s Point, came out in 1992. It has one of his most popular and lasting songs: ‘Are you Happy Now.’ This song is quite interesting, it is your typical break up song but it is done in an upbeat way that is almost cheery. My favourite version of this song is on the live ‘Courier’ album. Released in February 2002, this is my all time favourite album. It has many of his best songs live. Unlike many artists, Shindell’s music is fabulous live. He has outstanding acoustic guitar skills and makes great harmonies with Lucy Kaplansky who provided back up vocals on this album. There are two US Civil War era songs: ‘Courier’ and the outstanding ‘Arrowhead.’ Arrowhead is a captivating song about a young man who goes to fight in the Civil War and he ends up helping the cook. The song tells his story of how he loses the arrowhead the cook entrusted him with and the eventual loss of the war.
‘Fishing’ is another amazing song about how illegal immigrants are treated in the US. Basically, the man written about in the song is being asked to provide information to the government about others or they will go after his family. He also references Canada and a ‘lake in Ontario.’ Another outstanding song is ‘A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress,’ a song about unrequited love really speaks to the experience many people have when they are attracted to someone but unable to act on it for whatever reason.
What makes Richard Shindell’s music so fabulous is how he weaves stories in song that speak to the human condition. Whether the story is historic or current he finds a way to speak to his listeners. This ability coupled with his fabulous guitar work and strong vocals makes him one of the best singer-songwriters around. Check back for part 2 on Richard Shindell!