When the Girl Singer Comes In

I was recently thinking about some of my favourite songs. Or, more accurately, my favourite parts of songs. I’ve noticed a trend, in recent years. My favourite song parts often feature:

  • The first occurrence of the female singer in a duet.
  • The bridge or concluding chorus of a song which features a lyrical or vocal shift, as sung by a woman.

In short, I like it when the girl singer comes in.

To elucidate this phenomenon, I’ve created a little Muxtape, uh, mix. It begins with that classic Christmas tune, “Fairytale of New York”. I like how the song picks up and Kristy MacColl launches into the second verse with:

They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old

Hurray for internal rhyme and alliteration.

Next up are two versions of “Sweet Jane”, as covered by the Cowboy Junkies. You probably haven’t heard either version. They both diverge from the original cover that has so captivated people over the years. In both cases, I love Margo Timmons’s vocal improvisation that follows the bridge. It raises the hairs on my neck every time I hear it.

After that, there’s Sarah Harmer’s moody “Lodestar”. At about the three minute mark, there’s a bit of a trumpet solo. Then the tempo increases, and the strings get serious. Ms. Harmer sings:

And wait for it, there are only two of us now
This great black night, scooped out, and this fireglow

Listen! The darkness rings
The darkness…
Listen! The darkness rings
Take off your things

Lyrics drawn from a D. H. Lawrence poem, incidentally.

The first time I heard The Stars, I was driving and listening to the CBC. “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” started, and I was drawn in by the lush opening and Torquil Campbell’s theatrical voice. Then there’s the second verse, and the unexpected wonder of Amy Millan–it’s a duet! She sings how “the scar is a fleck on my porcelain skin, tried to reach deep but you couldn’t get in”. Terrific.

Finally, there’s my newest favourite song part. “Adventures in Solitude” is a gorgeous, surreal ballad by The New Pornographers. The song creeps along at first, all piano and mandolin, with A.C. Newman on lead vocals. At about the halfway point, the pace picks up. And there’s the incomparable Neko Case, her voice sweet as Saturday morning sex. She sings poetry that seems both nonsensical and poignant:

I know you want to, work for, wait for, one more
And that is comin’ at a bad time

Some cold place
Countless ways
For all we know

Writing a post like this, it’s apparent how I desperately lack the language to describe the music the way I want.

Just listen to the songs, though, and you’ll get the idea.


  1. “..Neko Case, her voice sweet as Saturday morning sex.” = doubleplus good too. Nicely turned.

    And in France she’d be called le renard and she’d be pursued with only her cunning to protect her.

  2. James: Thanks, I’d been thinking about the right metaphor for her voice all week.

  3. I only like Saturday morning sex if I can have breakfast first. Amy Millan: as awesome as Saturday morning breakfast before sex.

    Now I’m going to have to find new duets for you.

  4. Do you ever listen to Damien Rice? The album “O” has some oh-so-sweet girl parts on it. Beautiful.

  5. I was going to mention the New Pornographers but it appears there is no need. I too love this musical event you speak of.

  6. Heh, I was thinking of the opening of “Hold On, Hold On” half-way through your post – then there was Neko at the end of it 🙂

  7. While I will agree that Neko is incomparable, the female vocalist on Adventures in Solitude is Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine. They sound similar, yes, but it ain’t Neko.

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