The Heart of Pop, Part 1: The Troubador

It’s a romantic image — the troubador. Haven’t we all been captivated by the lonely, achingly beautiful voice of a young artist? It happens again and again for me. Having my ear always cocked for this soulful serenade remains my best compass for discovering beauty and truth in the overproduced, fad-driven, and group-think traditions that propel pop music from one decade to the next. The rare artist’s unadulterated voice remains the strength that underlies pop music. The arrangements, the outfits, the concert shenanigans, and such are all decoration — important sometimes — but decoration, nonetheless.

Buddy HollyJT

OK, maybe it’s more nuanced than that. My love affair with popular music is sustained by the pulsing and growing body of well-crafted and well-produced music but the real thunderbolts — those moments of inspiration, transcendence, and sheer gratitude to have had ears — come from young singers whose unique message, voice, and breath transform into an auditory arrow, piercing my soul and beckoning me to once again “get on board” for my musical journey.

No doubt we all have our favorite troubadors over the years. My list may be longer, starting as it does in the 50s. To name a few: Buddy Holly, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, J. D. Souther, Jackson Browne, Carole King, Elton John (with Bernie Taupin on his shoulder), Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, David Gates (yes, him), and the list goes on.

Most of these names, of course, are familiar to all of us — that’s one of the less than ideal artifacts of pop music, at least until recently. If we were hearing their music, these artists had already reached a level of acceptance and promotion by the labels. Until this 21st century, when did we ever have the opportunity to “discover” a young troubador first practicing their licks and finding their voice from a bedroom in their parents’ home or from their college dorm or even from a “van down by the river.” God bless Chris Farley for that last one.

But these early glimpses, these first drumbeats now echo through the internet and reach us (or those of us who do some exploring) long before a label can intercede and work their particular and sometimes nefarious “magic.” This direct connection between artist and fan represents yet another example of the internet turning business and culture upside down — another victory of grassroots marketing.

I find myself eager to wade into the new ways that young artists (even older ones) can share their music and artistic vision via the internet. In coming blogs I’ll continue the list of my favorite troubadors — young artists whose voice and songs helped shape their generation. More importantly, I hope to share with you some new names — raw, exuberant talents projecting their musical perspectives in the shared nooks and crannies of the World Wide Web.

In the meantime, why not begin your own exploration through two leading sites for the new world of music distribution: and

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