Going back to my college days, I’ve long been entranced by the chanteuses of modern folk and Americana, especially those who prefer playing acoustic instruments. (Nothing wrong with electric guitars, but I find it harder to actually hear melodies and voices when the volume is cranked.) Among some of my favorites are the Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, and Brandi Carlile. Each of these not only has an amazing voice, but also understands the power of strong songwriting, layered harmonies, and how to play the right instrument for the right mood.
My list of favorites has definitely grown and changed over the years, moving from more rock ‘n’ roll to bluegrass, Americana, and folk as I get older. All it takes is a lick, a verse, or a bit of harmony that sets me off in the hope of discovering more about a new voice or musician.
One of my latest finds is a duo called Driftwood Fire. Its members, Lynn Scharf (singer, guitarist) and Charlotte Formichella (multi-instrumentalist), actually attended my alma mater. It’s taken these two musicians a long time to reach the point of releasing their debut album, How to Untangle a Heartache, but the effort has a purity about it that makes it a joy to listen to.
There are qualities to Scharf’s voice that remind me of Brandi Carlile in “Let It All Go.” Over Formichella’s opening pick line, Scharf sings: “Don’t break my heart / it’ll never mend / we’re starting something / and we don’t know how it ends / just drive me someplace I’ve never seen / so late at night I mistake / you for a dream / and kiss me real slow / and just let it all go.” It’s a song about doing what feels good even if we know better. Sometimes life is like that, and such honesty in the song shines through.
“Appalachian Hills” has a haunting quality, sort of like something Sarah Jarosz would sing. It tells a story about a place chased by its past and showing through to the present. There’s a simple arrangement that lets the guitar, banjo, piano, and voice easily express the sadness of the place, between the Civil War, silver miners and other folks seeking their fortunes – leaving many dead in the fields, forgotten by time. Though not cheerful, again, there’s an honest appreciation for the history of a place without overblowing it with loud electric guitars.
The simple strum and lead guitar at the beginning of “One Thing Left” reminds me of a Big Head Todd and the Monsters song. But again, it’s the lyrics that bring it alive: “You wrote a letter / apologizing / for your absence / not realizing / that only hurt me / I read it slowly / shaking like a bird fighting with the wind / shocked I was all alone ….” This is almost a country song with the Americana showing through. But that “one thing left” to tell you is that I’ve moved on. I keep repeating that there’s an honesty in the music and the words, but that’s what it is. It’s a simple message – you hurt me, but I got over it.
Love can definitely hurt, but at least when poets and songwriters survive it, it’s “food for songs” as Del Amitri once said. Thank goodness Scharf and Formichella have managed to work out their heartache in song so that we can enjoy the fruits of that musical therapy. Definitely check out Driftwood Fire’s How to Untangle a Heartache if you’re looking for something new in the Americana/Folk vein for your collection.
Check out the Driftwood Fire home page for more information about the album or their ongoing tour.