My memory is not as good with dates as it use to be. I want to say I met Brian about a year ago but it seems I have always known him. The Cincinnati Blues Society was having a contest for "Best Blues Solo Musician". They were doing it at the Blue Wisp and the contest became to big for the venue. Arnold's agree to have the overflow musicians and Brian was one of them. He not only blew all of Arnold's away but also the crowd. He won that year. I think he was 12 years old or maybe 18. Remember I have a poor memory. I am proud of Brian and it has been a delight to watch his journey. I present to you, Brian Keith Wallen, Professional Blues Musician.
I'm Brian Keith Wallen, and I perform at Arnold's on the third Tuesday of every month for Bluesday Tuesday's. For this week's top ten list, I'm bringing you a top ten list of singer-songwriters that you may have never heard of. Of course, I may also be a singer-songwriter that you have never heard of, and if that's the case, please check out my website, http://www.briankeithwallen.com/. I hope that this list leads you to some enjoyable new music.
Top 10 Singer/Songwriters You May Have Never Heard Of
10. Griffin House
A Springfield, Ohio native, Griffin House turned down a full ride athletic scholarship to Ohio State to study music at Miami University in Oxford. It ended up working out pretty well. He has toured with such acts as John Mellencamp and Mat Kearney, and now resides in Nashville. He played at the 20th Century here in town not too long ago. The album "Flying Upside Down" features Benmont Tench, keyboardist for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
"Flying Upside Down"
9. Pete Yorn
Pete Yorn is probably the most commercially successful guy on this list, but he's still unknown to the vast majority of people, especially once you get past his one radio hit, "Life On A Chain". He has done some pretty interesting things over the years, including releasing an album with Scarlett Johansson. He sounds sort of like a folkier R.E.M.
"Back and Fourth"
8. Chris Knight
Slaughers, Kentucky is the hometown of Chris Knight. And it's evidently a pretty rough place, judging by the lyrics of Chris Knight's songs. His rootsy, extremely raw sound is a fitting backdrop for lyrics filled with murder, injustice, and the ugly side of life. A cross between Tom Waits and John Mellencamp. Which is definitely a good thing.
"A Pretty Good Guy"
"Down The River"
7. Tim O'Brien
Tim O'Brien is the best songwriter in bluegrass. His lyrical depth far exceeds the majority of bluegrass songsmiths, and his music always conveys emotion. He is also a hugely gifted instrumentalist, being equally adept at guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, mandocello, and bouzouki. I saw him playing with Bryan Sutton in Hamilton last year, and it was a wonderful experience. Buy "Real Time", a duo album he recorded with Darrell Scott, to hear two of the musicians on this list. The Bob Dylan of bluegrass.
6. Rich Mullins
Rich Mullins was born in Richmond, Indiana, so he's an area musican. He played piano, guitar, hammered dulcimer, lap dulcimer, accordion, and Irish whistle, to name a few. He is unknown to many because he was classified as a "Contemporary Christian" musician, and he died in a tragic auto accident in 1997. The reality is that his music is much bigger than one genre or faith, and if you give his music a chance, I think you'll be impacted by it, as I have been.
“A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band”
“Calling Out Your Name”
5. Ray LaMontagne
Ray is getting more attention these days, yes, but most people still know him as the guy that sings "Trouble". There is so much more to Ray LaMontagne than that. His voice is one of the most emotive and unique you'll ever hear, and the impact of his lyrics is astounding. There aren't enough superlatives to describe this guy.
“God Willing & The Creek Don't Rise”
“Let It Be Me”
4. Ryan Bingham
I love Ryan Bingham. He is raw, rootsy, and full of soul. I've been listening to this guy for several years, since his first album came out in 2007. He has gotten more recognition lately because of a song placement in the movie, "The Weary Kind", but he is still largely an unknown. He has mastered the balance between great music and great lyrics. Some of his songs absolutely rock, musically, while still having the kind of artistry in the lyrics that takes you aback.
3. Richard Thompson
RT is one of those guys who is universally respected amongst musicians, but not that well known to anyone else. He is one of the best guitar players in the world, and was actually ranked in the top 20 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone. His songs have been recorded by Robert Plant, R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, and plenty of others. He's been doing it since the 1960's, and he is only getting better. I saw him at the 20th Century recently, and was so impressed that I went to see him again in Louisville a couple of weeks later. Some of his music is solid, straight ahead rock, and some of it is classic folk. Either way, you can't go wrong.
"Shoot Out the Lights"
2. Darrell Scott
Darrell Scott is my all time favorite songwriter, and a criminally underappreciated musician. He plays well over a dozen instruments, and recently toured the world with Robert Plant's Band of Joy. His songs have been recorded by country music heavyweights like the Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Brad Paisley, Sara Evans, and many others, but oddly enough, he isn't a country artist. He is a fusion of blues, folk, bluegrass, country, gospel, and rock, and his songs are truly moving. Buy his stuff. You won't regret it.
"A Crooked Road"
"The Open Door"
1. Townes Van Zandt
For about a year now, I've been conducting a social experiment. At almost every show, I will ask if anyone in the audience knows who Townes Van Zandt is. 90% of the time, nobody does. 10% of the time, maybe one person, or two at the most, will have heard of him. This is almost a criminal shame. Townes is one of the best damn songwriters who has ever walked this earth, and the list of people that agree with that statement includes Neil Young, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Lyle Lovett, Norah Jones, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Caleb Followill, Gillian Welch...I could go on forever. He is the Vincent Van Gogh or the Ernest Hemingway of songwriting. He lived his whole life in the depths of depression, sacrificing his health, happiness, and personal well being for "The Sake of the Song", as his first album was titled.
To be great, you have to be willing to go to the dark places. Townes lived his whole life in the dark places. He died on New Years Day in 1997 at 52 years of age, his body finally succumbing to the years of substance abuse brought on by a man trying to escape from the pain. Listen to Townes. It will change you.
"Townes Van Zandt" or "Live At The Old Quarter"