Richard Shindell is a meticulous craftsman of song whose six studio albums and one live recording have been revered by critics and fans alike. Innovative, original and occasionally spiritual, Shindell’s songs weave tales that interchangeably champion the downtrodden, exalt the disaffected or wax empathetic to those lost to society’s fringes. From his first record, Sparrow’s Point (1992) to the newest album South of Delia (2007), Shindell has demonstrated a penchant for songwriting at once passionate and profound.
Shindell’s songwriting is truly eclectic, ranging from lighthearted ballads and adulterous love songs, to dirges and diatribes that skillfully skewer politics, prejudice, war, and religion. He has a unique ability to morph into the soul of the many and varied personalities he casts as narrators in certain songs — songs that are veritable novellas framed in haunting acoustic melodies.
Born in New Jersey, Mr. Shindell grew up in Port Washington, Long Island where he began to take guitar lessons. He spent the last of his teenage years in Baltimore, and then attended Hobart College in upstate New York where he continued to pursue his musical interests. During an earlier stint at Moravian College, Shindell teamed up with John Gorka in the short-lived Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band.
Upon graduation, Shindell moved into a Zen Buddhist monastery for a while, leaving to explore Europe, and ending up the proverbial struggling musician in Paris playing for coins in underground Metro stations. Leaving the city of light, Shindell found himself in New York, where he took a hiatus from music. Long fascinated by philosophy and religion, he enrolled in Union Theological Seminary. Between classes, he began to write songs and finished what he calls his first “keeper song,” a melodic if cryptic ode to the Virgin Mary composed on the mountain dulcimer called “On A Sea Of Fleur de Lis,” which appeared on his first record, Sparrows Point.
Fortunately, it didn’t take much to convince the New Jersey-based independent record label, Shanachie, that Mr. Shindell was a songwriter worth signing. Shindell produced three records under the Shanachie label, including Sparrow’s Point, Blue Divide (1994) and Reunion Hill (1997), which won the AFIM “Best Contemporary Folk Album” in 1998.
With each successive record, Shindell toured relentlessly and built a solid following of loyal fans. In 1997, he was invited to join Joan Baez on her European and American tour and opened the eyes and ears of a new segment of folk music enthusiasts to his talents as a songwriter and performer. In 1998, Shindell formed the acoustic trio, Cry Cry Cry, with Dar Williams and Lucy Kaplansky. Along with a little help from their friends, Cry Cry Cry produced an eponymously titled album (Razor & Tie Records, 1998) comprised largely of cover songs of lesser-known artists. The trio toured from 1998 until 2000, leaving audiences spellbound with their unique three-part harmonies.
In 2000, Shindell released Somewhere Near Patterson (Signature Sounds, 2000), which quickly became his most successful release to date. Produced by Larry Campbell, longtime member of the Bob Dylan Band, its release was followed by a comprehensive tour that played to sold-out shows across the country and established Shindell as one of the premier performing songwriters in popular music. Somewhere Near Patterson was followed by Courier (Signature Sounds, 2002), the live reprise of many of Shindell’s best loved songs.
Also in 2000, Shindell and his family moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he recorded Vuelta (Koch Records, 2004). For this project he joined up with Puente Celeste, a distinctly Argentine group of virtuoso musicians.
Now, Shindell returns north with a stunning collection of covers called South of Delia. To say that South of Delia is a record of covers, however, does not do justice to the spirit of this project. It is a deeply personal choice of songs that Shindell offers up here — that of an expatriate looking back at the country he left. With guest appearances by Lucy Kaplansky, Viktor Krauss, Richard Thompson, Tony Trischka, Greg Anderson, Eliza Gilkyson and others, South of Delia offers up new interpretations of songs such as Acadian Driftwood (Robbie Robertson), Señor (Bob Dylan), and Deportee (Woody Guthrie). Shindell also thoroughly rehabilitates Springsteen’s often misunderstood Born in the USA.
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