The best new female singer-songwriters
The best new female singer-songwriters -- Yael Naim, Missy Higgins, and Jaymay are just a few of our new obsessions
Could it be that the Lilith fairies of the ’90s have come home to roost? After too many years of dancing-pony pop tarts, the spotlight shines again on female singer-songwriters. Following the lead of groundswell successes like Feist, Sara Bareilles, and Colbie Caillat, the women here are finding their way into the mainstream via the new success paradigm of the ’00s: exposure through MySpace, iTunes, Grey’s Anatomy, and One Tree Hill. — Alisa Cohen, Leah Greenblatt, Loren Lankford, Lesley Savage, and Simon Vozick-Levinson
Where You’ve Heard Her The Staten Islander’s songs first gained attention on no fewer than four episodes of Grey’s. More recently, her single ”The Way I Am” popped up in an Old Navy TV ad.
For Fans of The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler. A deft mistress of quirk folk, Michaelson, 28, looks like Lisa Loeb (mahogany locks, librarian eyeglasses) but sings with the summery charm of her English indie-pop predecessor. Her independently released second album, Girls and Boys (out now), is a grassroots phenomenon that’s climbed from obscurity into the upper echelons of iTunes.
Best Track ”The Way I Am” (myspace.com/ingridmichaelson)
Where You’ve Heard Her After trolling NYC’s anti-folk scene, Jamie Seerman, 27, made some noise the new-fashioned way: on iTunes’ Indie Spotlight in May ’06. KCRW’s Nic Harcourt came calling two months later, airing her song ”Sea Green, See Blue” on the esteemed Santa Monica station’s Today’s Top Tune podcast. Seerman, who recently opened for Bright Eyes, will put out her first full-length, Autumn Fallin’, on March 11.
For Fans of Hyperliterate lyricists Bob Dylan, Regina Spektor, and Nellie McKay. Autumn weaves through a love affair that goes cold as the winter chill seeps in. Just don’t expect seasonal affective disorder: The guitar-and strings-laden disc begins and ends on notes of hope.
Best Track ”Gray or Blue” (myspace.com/jaymay)
Where You’ve Heard Her Unless you’re British — and subjected to the white-noise whoosh of the Blighty hype machine — it’s doubtful Marling is on your radar. That should change when Alas, I Cannot Swim, her first CD, hits the U.S. this spring.
For Fans of Fiona Apple, Beth Orton, and Vashti Bunyan. Marling, 18, is a precocious baby sister to all of the above. An ethereal platinum blonde who’s both thoughtful and mournful, she’s an old, haunted soul in a teenager’s body.
Best Track ”My Manic and I” (myspace.com/lauramarling)
Where You’ve Heard Her Raised in Israel, Naim, 30, struck gold this year when Apple chose her track ”New Soul” for its MacBook Air laptop commercial. Her ditty — almost as fun and weightless as the chic piece of hardware it’s selling — has racked up more than 700,000 MySpace plays to date.
For Fans of Feist. Naim’s self-titled American debut (dropping March 18) shows off her high, quavering voice and gift for piano-based melody. Singing original compositions in French, Hebrew, and English, she echoes her fellow Apple chanteuse — except on an acoustic cover of ”Toxic,” which finds Naim aiming instead for a mopey-Britney vibe.
Best Track ”New Soul” (myspace.com/yaelnaim)
Where You’ve Heard Her Where haven’t you heard her? Higgins’ music has been used on Grey’s, One Tree Hill, Days of Our Lives, and Lipstick Jungle.
For Fans of Alanis Morissette lite. Already a huge success Down Under, the 24-year-old Higgins limns the strummy coffeehouse pop-rock of many American artists but adds a fierce Aussie edge. Hear her husky vocals showcased in her second release, On a Clear Night (out now).
Best Track ”Where I Stood” (myspace.com/missyhiggins)
Where You’ve Heard Her A live clip showing the 24-year-old L.A.; native playing a laid-back cover of Rihanna’s ”Umbrella” became a YouTube smash last May, garnering more than 5 million views. From there, Digby’s tunes could be heard all over the prime-time spectrum, with spots on The Hills and Smallville.
For Fans of Vanessa Carlton. On her April 8 debut, Unfold, Digby serves up some midtempo pop-rock love songs of her own, backed by an anonymous, slick band. Rest assured, there’s also a polished studio take on that ”Umbrella” cover.
Best Track ”Say It Again” (myspace.com/mariedigby)
Where You’ve Heard Her A year ago, Voegele, now 21, signed to MySpace Records, but she really broke out after guest-starring on One Tree Hill this season, playing the shy singer Mia — who just happens to croon Voegele’s compositions, such as ”Only Fooling Myself.”
For Fans of The Wreckers and Evanescence’s Amy Lee. Voegele’s first and current release, Don’t Look Away, offers a little something for everyone: piano-based female-empowerment ballads, acoustic numbers, plus a few rocking cuts.
Best Track ”No Good” (myspace.com/katevoegele)
Where You’ve Heard Her You’ve likely encountered this 27-year-old’s work…as a recording engineer. Landes’ day job has paired her with musicians as diverse as Ryan Adams and Philip Glass.
For Fans of Woody Guthrie, Suzanne Vega, and Michelle Shocked. The Kentucky-bred New Yorker — whose U.S. debut, Fireproof, arrives March 4 — specializes in pretty, meandering numbers infused with a back-porch aesthetic and storytelling smarts. A live favorite? Landes’ bluegrass riff on Peter Bjorn and John’s ”Young Folks.”
Best Track ”Bodyguard” (myspace.com/dawnlandes)
Where You’ve Heard Her No, she’s not the actress formerly of Grey’s Anatomy. But the Englishwoman’s yearning ballad ”Your Song,” off her second album, Tim’s House, was featured on Grey’s. The disc, now available, even beat out offerings from Arcade Fire and Amy Winehouse to top the U.K. iTunes album chart last year.
For Fans of Dido and Joni Mitchell. The songstress, 25, marries whispery vocals with sweet musings on love and loss — all over acoustic guitar and violin. House teems with clean, no-frills cuts thanks to producer Tim Bidwell’s homespun recording studio: his bedroom (hence the album’s title).
Best Track ”Don’t Break My Heart” (myspace.com/katewalsh)