Singing and a deep, analytic appreciation for it has always been a part of my life. The child of two music teachers, I grew up singing in choirs, taking voice lessons and participating in super-nerdy, incredibly embarrassing, overly harmonized family sing-alongs (Seriously. When my extended family is around, even "Happy Birthday" is usually done in about 12-part harmony). When I went to college, I tried to avoid my destiny for a while but I ended up getting a degree in voice performance anyway. Which is a ridiculously useless degree if you don't want to be an opera singer or, you know, a performer at all, which I quickly discovered I didn't. Nowadays, my own personal vocal performances are pretty much limited to the shower and the occasional drunken karaoke turn. But as a music critic, what I've done with all that singing is channel it into a deep, analytical appreciation for sing ers.
Now, I don't need a singer to be able to actually sing well to enjoy their music. Some of the best songs in pop history have been made by artists with thin, small and even pitchy voices (with help from a LOT of Auto-Tune). But there is undoubtedly something to be said for an attention to tone, a carefully crafted vocal line, an impressive range, a distinctive timbre -- in other words, a knock-your-socks-off, make-your-teeth-sweat, change-your-life set of pipes. And that's what my Friday Mixtape is dedicated to: an assortment of vocalists from a wide range of genres who have almost nothing in common other than the fact that their voices have knocked me off my feet for one reason or another. Some of the artists on this playlist are here because of the sheer power of their pipes. But even the stone-cold belters, like Aretha and Adele, on this list kill it with such delicate, thoughtful nuance. For the most part, this playlist is really a collection of singers with distinctive voices who think about the way their vocals interact with the narrative and texture of the song: the mournful, powerful wail of ranchera legend Chavela Vargas; Otis Redding's sensual, scratched-up buzz; Nina Simone's weary, gut-punching, inimitable croon; Brandi Carlile's full-out vocal assault. In other words, this is a playlist with singers with a deep, analytical appreciation for the art of singing.