When I was around thirteen years old, I went downtown on the bus to a record store and bought a couple of albums of medieval music. You can maybe guess how long ago that was by the existence of a record store and a 13-year-old girl being allowed to go shopping on her own in the city. I listened to that unfamiliar music from the age that gave us monks and abbesses, knights and troubadours, and spent the rest of my teen years and into my early twenties ignoring everything I heard on the radio and exploring medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music, and the large and glorious repertoire written over five centuries of music for English cathedral choirs.
Notwithstanding preferring countertenors to Duran Duran, I did pick up a lot of the popular tunes of the day. But for the last thirty years, give or take, all the mainstream, popular, rock, or even alternative music I’ve listened to has been stuff that specific people turned me on to.
In my twenties, I sang in a small choir directed by my fiance/husband. My two closest friends in the group turned me on to Tori Amos, Loreena McKennitt, and Dead Can Dance. My husband introduced me to European jazz artists like Jan Garbarek and all the other folks on the ECM label. Back in 2014, a friend who works at a college radio station recommended I listen to this Irish dude playing live on their station, a fellow named Hozier. I went to see him in concert twice last year, and the last concert I heard before that was Dead Can Dance’s tour in 1996.
So when people on Twitter that I respect started talking about how good Taylor Swift’s new album was, I said, “… Okay. I’ll bite.” I went to Amazon Music, clicked a couple of times, and started listening.
And I loved it.
No disrespect to Ms Swift, but I just don’t listen to pop. My Amazon listening history is 90% Hozier and 10% Jade Bird, Dead Can Dance, and bassoon quintets. (I like the bassoon very much.) But Folklore is a collection of songs. Words and music twined together to be listened to, to be sung. Swift’s voice reminds me of Suzanne Vega on this album, a bit higher, a bit sweeter, but thoughtful, introspective, a little wry in a way that’s very like Vega, although their songs are quite different. These are songs about being human, being a woman, loving, hurting, thinking, observing.
I understand that Folklore was created while the coronavirus quarantine was at its strictest, and it sounds, to borrow a phrase from Hozier, homemade and handmade, in the best possible way. I say from now on, we just leave Taylor Swift alone and let her write songs and make albums. She’s good at it.