Here's a real-life fairy tale for you. My college roommate's little sister started singing along to Cindi Lauper songs with a couple of her college friends... which led to singing other songs together, some original compositions... which led to a MySpace page to share their singing with family and friends... which led to an unexpected discovery, record deal, and international tour.
Their music was never designed to have mass-market appeal or even marketability to a specific niche. Their songs are mostly a capella, with a little acoustic guitar here and there. It is classified as "folk music" and compared to Appalachian folk singing, but the compositions are original and have no direct roots in Appalachian traditions. This is just the result of three Midwestern girls playing freely with voice and harmony, which serendipitously struck a chord with listeners across the United States and Europe.
Listen to Mountain Man on NPR's World Cafe here.
Mountain Man's songs are haunting, beautiful, musically interesting, yet spare. They will make lovely lullabies for my baby, but they are very much appealing to the more sophisticated adult ear. They have an old-fashioned tone, enhanced by Biblical or folkloric-sounding lyrical themes, and yet they are fresh and new.
There is nothing commercial or easily definable about Mountain Man's music, and that is part of its rare seduction. The music sounds just plain authentic--but authentic to what? The singers make no claim to be part of a movement or established style. Their singing is wholly authentic to themselves, to their unique voices and creative impulses, and it shows.
Like in the world of literature, sometimes an artist stumbles into accidental fame because their singular preferences just so happen to captivate those around them with such resonance that the experience must be shared. It seems that this never happens intentionally. Artists who try to break the mold and forge new genres or styles or movements in contrast to popular trends rarely achieve widespread followings. It is these introspective types, following an impulse or a pleasure or an artistic question to its full depth, who find these perfectly balanced harmonies. Often they only serve to fulfill the artist's own creative needs, but when the frequencies align just right, sometimes the work explodes into something the creator can neither anticipate nor control.
Made the Harbor is Mountain Man's debut album, which sounds as though it was recorded and produced in the eerily calm eye of their first whirlwind tour. I recommend this album as a family-friendly home soundtrack with cross-generational charm, as a moving but soothing inspiration for writers and other artists, and as a very hip and distinctive gift for anyone who loves music.
Next month, Mountain Man will be performing in Australia, and after that they will join The Decemberists on another U.S. tour. Check out venues on their website.