The Lady Godivas of Folk-Blues

4 years ago

I wanted to make a collection of softly angelic songs by female singer-songwriters of the '60s and '70s—my project went into a different direction: I was drawn to the depths of female folk music, ardent with wild emotions and independence. I explored female musicians in American folk, folk-blues, and found hints of folk-roots in modern garage rock. Why the "Lady Godivas of Folk-Blues"? Because these women come to us raw—their voices are pure, coming straight from the visceral core of their emotions; they sing about outcasts,  callous hearts, and independence. Their music is naked to us—it may be taboo, it may be criticized, but it exposes their true essence; they come to us naked—their truth is blinding, and their music spellbinding.

Folk Off: Ladies Sing Their Heart Out from pistolera on 8tracks Radio.

We begin with the delightful Holly Golightly: "I Let My Daddy Do That" from Painted On. I am such a big fan that I have considered driving up to her farm in Georgia just to have a conversation with her. Holly Golightly is a blend of garage rock, folk-rock, and smokey vocals. The song in the selection is actually very simple: guitar riffs, piercing vocals—yet, it's resonant of old times female blues singers: Sister Rosetta Thorpe, or Memphis Minnie, with a touch of childish-folk and modern garage. "Turtle Blues" follows, by Janis Joplin. A fantastic (if not rare) example of Joplin's ability to sing a blues song, and express all the emotions that blues songs are meant to make us feel: the fallen woman, who sings about a hard "turtle" heart, yet sung with so much passion, that we feel empathetic towards her. It seems that outcast women are the thread that links all these female musicians together, and in some way they are: Melanie Safka sings "Lovin' Baby Girl," the story of a poor orphaned child. Safka's crescendo is spectacular: it begins by creating sympathy towards the innocence of the orphan girl, and steadily builds up like a raging fire—it leads us into a secret dimension, in which we understand the narrator's state of mind: enraged, abandoned, yet powerful. Meg White performed vocals on "Passive Manipulation" recorded with the White Stripes. The song in itself is self-explanatory: an ode to female independence, and learning to break away from patriarchy.

If there's a song that perfectly narrates the story of an outcast woman, I'd have to say it's "Katie Cruel," in which the narrator of the song is used by men, and as a consequence is rejected from society. The song is originally an american folk song, which Karen Dalton recorded in two versions: the one in the playlist is from the album In My Own Time, and a grittier version is found in her album 1966. Dalton's performance perfectly expresses the regret of the narrator, but also portrays a woman full of resentment towards the men who manipulated and exiled her. Barbara Dane is a traditional American folk and blues singer, followed by Grace Slick's deep, powerful voice; "Grimly Forming" was recorded with The Great Society, a psychedelic-folk band. The lyrics we often find Slick singing about (especially with Jefferson Airplane) are a distorted view of reality, an almost hideous portrayal of the world—yet, Slick never fails to perform with dignity, no matter how ugly the subject she is singing about. We end with an amazing track: "I Know You Rider," sung by the "Queen of the Beatnicks" Judy Henske. Originally an American blues song, the most popular version was recorded by the Grateful Dead; however, Henske's rendition beats any other. The last three women in the playlist all have powerful voices—there's no competition between them. Yet, Henske has that something: that Amazonian attitude of defiance, the confidence to break through the roof with her ancestral voice. Geez, she remindsa me of Velma Kelly from Chicago—I mean, just listen to her 1963 self-titles live album. She could really murder a man, and have the sass to give a killer performance minutes later.

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