Consider the topic of tastes and most people think sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The Japanese add one more category called umami which literally translates as “delicious” but is often interpreted to mean savory. I’ve always thought of umami more as of a mellow happy almost-after taste, the kind of flavor that comes with a piece of provolone cheese on an onion bagel, preferably washed down with hot (dark) cocoa the way it was served in Milan, Italy.
There is a group of vocalists that for me sound the way umami tastes – mellow, happy and unobtrusive. I call them the Reassuring Voices: Musicians/vocalists with a pure tenor that can be aural Xanax for me. I’m not sure why but the sound of their voices just seems …well, reassuring. When I listen to them I am wrapped with the feeling that even if my life currently feels like a train wreck in slow motion everything is going to work out/everything is going to be OK.
The musicians attached to these wonderful vocals are
James Taylor: Unlike others on this list, Taylor’s work has been influential to me over most of my adult life and not just one phase. In particular his work has been the background music for three very pivotal times in my life:
- Mud Slide Slim – University of Alaska
- In the Pocket – Fall of 1976 when I was courting my beautiful Saxon Princess, Lori
- Never Die Young – 1987-89 when my young family and I were “house-sitters” at my parent’s home in Sterling, Alaska
Paul McCartney: Choosing both Rubber Soul and Ram as favorites can be expected but I get mixed response when I tell people I love the soundtrack to Give My Regards to Broad Street. It was the background music for that time in my career when I realized I was going to survive as an illustrator and that our next address wouldn’t be “221B I-15 Underpass” It was like having a childhood friend say “Hey, you’re going to make it mate!”
Sting: If “reassuring voices” are like provolone on an onion bagel, Sting has some Dijon mustard added on the top – just a tad bit edgier. The Dream of the Blue Turtle, Nothing Like the Sun and to a lesser extent Soul Cages and Ten Summoner’s Tales were the soundtrack to the “Elvis Years” of 1985 to 1991 when my cover illustrations appeared in gaming & hobby shops all over the world and I was so busy I had to farm out work to friends. It was also when I first started considering my mortality; I still looked good, but I could no longer do sixty pushups in 2:00 or run two miles in 14:15.
Lance Nelson: You can stop scratching your head because no, you probably haven’t heard of him. Lance is a consummate musician and (as John Lennon said of Paul McCartney) “a truly inspired bass player”. He’s also one of my best friends. He set his musical aspirations aside for a season to pursue a distinguished career as an assistant attorney general for the state of Alaska, but he’s resumed his music and I expect wonderful results.
I date my appreciation for his soothing tenor to a specific event in the late winter of 1972 while I was at the University of Alaska (Fairbanks). It was not a good time for me – one of the rare unhappy periods during my time at UA, mainly because of the following:
- I was flunking Algebra II and World History.
- I’d been propositioned by my history teacher – my “attentions” for a passing grade.
- The other residents in my dorm floor thought I was a narc.
My Best Friend and I spent one evening listening to Lance and his girlfriend play through a selection of songs and when they got to Teach Your Children I just lost it. His high tenor melody against her alto harmony was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard and feeling of elemental peace draped over me like a quilt on a cold night.
All these voices are just as reassuring to me now. That issue of mortality that troubled me in the late 80s figures even more prominently now – and I must wonder if I have a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact. On days that I can’t walk very well, or it seems like I am chained to a nebulizer, popping “In the Pocket” into my CD player brings a lot of comfort.
…and for the record, I wasn’t a narc, I just didn’t smoke weed. I also did not take up on my history teacher’s proposition; I thanked him for the compliment, told him I was dead butch and took the F.