A bunch of the artists I enjoy most have what may be considered as a very unconventional vocal quality. Now everyone is "unique' as are their fingerprints, to be shure, but the artists I'm thinking about are real standouts in that they are unmistakeably...well....odd perhaps. An aquired taste as their voice could easily grate on many. Maybe I should give some examples and that would be a better way to get what I mean accross:
Tom Waits comes first to mind. The little girl voice of Joanna Newsom. Those two I enjoy very much. One I just can't stand to listen to myself, Diamanda Gallas - Hey If I wanted to hear screaming like that I can just 'forget' to do the dishes a few nights in a row! Oh, yeah, Sean reminded me recently of the most bizarre, Klaus Nomi, whose mezzo soprano voice sounded more like a woman than a man. Actually Klaus was difficult to categorize himself. But actually, his voice was quite lovely as far as conventions go. So he wouldn't really qualify.
I guess what I'm saying is that these are not conventionally 'pretty' voices, yet they are engaging to many nonetheless, and certainly gifted artists, as far as those I've mentioned goes.
Robin Holcomb, wife of saxophonist Wayne Horvitz. She has a fey and haunting voice that works well with her compositions, which are also otherworldly and haunting. Try her first CD on Nonesuch, "Robin Holcomb." If you like Iris, you'll probably like her too, yet they're quite different. Her piano-based songs remind some people of Charles Ives.
The first who came to mind is Mary Fahl -- was with the October Project and is now solo. Very low, unusual but haunting voice. Her "Other Side of Time" album is wonderful! It always finds it's way to the rotation, especially by my wife.
More well known is Kate Bush (maybe it's more how she uses her voice than the nature of her voice). Would Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker or Janis Joplin fit the category? They all have unusual but very distinctive voices.
Nancy Griffith. Joan Armatrading. Richard Thompson. Elvis Costello. PJ Harvey. Edie Brickell. Marianne Faithful(oozes experience albeit not unique experience). Gillian Welch. Macy Gray.Ani Difranco. Lauri anderson. Many unique voices- and many more, but these in particular stand outside classification to my way of thinking. UniQue talents that have arrived inspite of not being fit into the usual genre molds or having the usual Qualifications.
Alanis Morrisette has a distinct vocal style that seems to be emulated in part by many of the young angst female vocalists of late. It's like - I'm a woman, I can sing and I feel like kicking you in the nuts.
Chris Rea has a very deep and smoky voice that totally sets the mood of his music and plays off especially well with the slide guitar presence. Works for me on 'Road to Hell' anyway.
I think I should reign this thread in a bit. Definitely many unique and original voices here, and a whole lot of talent for sure. I was thinking more along the lines of an "ugly" voice, for lack of a better way of putting it. A voice you'd otherwise never think of as a singing voice, or a musical voice even. Like Howard suggests, a voice that if you only heard a few bars you might think someone was pulling your leg and had played something from a nightmare karaoke session, yet if you take the time to listen to the whole song, or contemplate an album or larger body of work you may really be impressed. Lets see if I can put this back on track a little bit...
Paolo Conte...much like Tom Waits his voice sounds ravaged by drink and cigarettes.
A few from above that I'd connect with that way. Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Marianne Faithfull, Yoko Ono.
A few from above that I wouldn't think fit the description: Casandra Wilson (damn, her voice is like liquid honey...albeit my wife finds her a bit 'manly'...I'd say 'unique' for sure, but definitely not "ugly"). Allison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Aaron Neville, and others - not to pick on anyone specifically, but all of these voices are indeed "unique", but none are what I'd call an "ugly" voice. Perhaps the title of the thread is misleading (my bad). I should have titled it "An Ugly Voice". Interesting contributions all, regardless. Keep'em coming.
Marco, What about that disc you sent me? Bright Eyes, was it? He should fit the criterion. If I get you correctly, you're asking for unique in the sense of a stand-out, as opposed to simply having a good voice.
Like Nick Cave, who appears to be singing but only comes close. He's as haunting as his music. Who else could 'sing' the Murder Ballads?
OK Marco, for me it's gotta be Lou Reed.....specifically 'Velvet Underground & Nico'. I bought it at a used record store because I remember seeing it in my friend's older brother's stack. Since he was "cool", I now was just as cool having it in my collection. I remember putting it on for the very first time and just cringing at the vocals - I bounced the needle off every track, cringed even more and then expeditiously resleeved it and stuck it in the back. If it wasn't for disco, I probably would have never rediscovered it - truly one of my most impressionable albums personally.
Hey, I'd run screaming from the room too;-) They'll probably be talking about Jimmy Dale to their analyst when they're older! If I had kids that were subjected to some of the stuff I listen to I think they'd run off and never return. Pehaps they'd end up on top of a tower with a high-powered rifle and a case of ammo. Hey, maybe I did have kids...or was that just a dream? Maybe Slappy is my long lost son who heard Throbbing Gristle once to often back in the early 80's!? Chris...Come back to daddy pumpkin! Daddy's sorry for what he done! He didn't know better! Oh, and bring that fine set of wheels home with you boy, you're family now! Hey, this could be a great scam...If I were just a bit younger I could hit up Albert Porter or Tom Lyons as my long-lost pappy! I'm comin' home to daddy...make sure the system is warmed-up for me!
here's some that come to mind, and haven't been mentioned: Hope Sandoval - from Mazzy Star Beth Gibbons - from Portishead Gene Clark - from the Birds (late) Mark Knopfler Davey Cousins - from the Strawbs
John Mayer - interesting sounding voice. Irritated me at first, but it grew on me.
Billie Holiday (recommend last album - Lady in Satin - raw intensity w/a final sadness that is unmatched)
Diane Schurr - a varied artist, but some of her interpretations send shivers down my spine, and it is a unique voice you can pick out from all others. Listen to one of her signature songs, "Nobody Does it Like You Do."
Sarah Vaughn - humanity was lucky to have this wonderful voice & lady to give of her tremendous talents A big, resonant, rich, throbbing instrument of varied color & range, from the mid-60's on.
Even though I love him, I'd have to add Van Morrison to this list. And if anyone is interested in two strange voices together (Van Morrison & Sinead O'Conner) in what is surely the oddest/worst duet I've ever heard check out this album. They sing "Have I Told You Lately" with The Chieftains on the Letterman Show. Some of the music is good on this, but it's worth picking up just to hear the two of them "sing" this.