Solas was putting its career on the line. The Irish supergroup had risen to international stardom with its Celtic repertoire; but it would now release an entire CD of works by contemporary songwriters. They spent months hunting for just the right songs. As Solas founder Seamus Egan recalls now, "We knew it became much less risky if we had great songs."
"The Edge of Silence" was a critical and commercial triumph. And which songs made the sale? The Bob Dylan cover? Tom Waits? Jesse Colin Young? Nick Drake? Not according to music industry bible Billboard. Both it and the Irish Echo said the CD's clear highlight was the writing of an obscure German-American songwriter named Antje Duvekot.
Egan still feels the rush he got when he first heard her songs; unpolished, raw, taken from a cassette she'd made for a friend, who had a friend, who had a friend, who said he knew a guy who was looking for songs for Solas.
"Our reaction was immediate, like lightning," Egan says. "Her songs stood head-and-shoulders above anything else we were listening to. There's no one writing like her today." That's why Egan produced Duvekot's first major studio CD, "Big Dream Boulevard". It is hard to recall when a fledgling folk songwriter has been more highly touted by her musical peers.
Legendary producer Neil Dorfsman, who produced "Edge of Silence," and CDs by Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Dire Straits, says, "Her songs are stunning paintings of color and shade, and always generate the heat and light that real art should."
"I think she's going to be the next great American folk singer-songwriter," says folk-pop star Ellis Paul, who has been introducing his audiences to Duvekot, and sings on her new CD. "She's writing songs we need to hear right now. I feel like I've been waiting for her to come along and join the club of traveling musicians that I'm in because we need a fresh voice to shake things up for all of us."
What's causing all the commotion? It's all there, on her new CD, from urgent topical songs like the aching lament to war-torn "Jerusalem," to the ominous innuendo of "Sex Bandaid," to the tender urgency of "Hold On."
"Somehow, she's able to open the personal out to be universal," Egan says, "which most songwriters aren't able to do. You know, they're able to get one or the other, but not both. That's something that separate Antje from the rest."
But first, you notice the voice. Where so many songwriters stretch for their highest notes, hoping to impress and astound, Duvekot bravely mines her deep reaches, where the dark feelings lurk. It softens her phrasing, leading us in with whispers, letting us know she believes every word she sings.
Her melodies seem like suddenly occurring thoughts, matching the hushed, conversational allure of her singing. They feel so immediate, so in synch with her lyrics; and yet also snugly rooted, oddly familiar, like memories you can't quite recall.
She sings, and writes, as if she thinks songs are important; not means to an end, but tools of survival. And for her, that's just what they are.
Duvekot [DOO-va-kot] was born in Heidelberg, Germany; and her biography is a tale of two chldhoods. She remembers her German years as carefree, scampy, and filled with song. Every day in school, they sang old folk songs. When camping in the summer, and all her chums went playing in the woods, she stayed behind, enchanted by the sound of adults singing around the campfire.
The old melodies drew her, giving such knowable emotion to the words; but more than that was the sound of private feelings being shared. There was power in that, she knew even then, power and something else. Healing. Community.
When she was 13, her carefree world shattered. Her mother remarried, and her new home was as filled with strictness and coldness as her old one had been with songs and laughter. This new family moved to Delaware. She barely spoke English; she knew no one. Music became even more important to her, but for very different reasons.
"I was so confined by my stepdad and my mother that I really didn't have a life," she recalls now. "So I had to kind of exist in an abstract environment, and I just poured my whole existence into music. Because it was the only thing I had access to. Since then, I have always looked at music as a lifeboat; I don't know how I would have gotten through that long period of loneliness without it."
She discovered the subterranean folk world of urban songwriters like Paul, John Gorka, and Ani DiFranco. She made little tapes of them, and listened while she wandered through her strange new world. As she told the Boston Globe in 2005, "The only time I was truly happy as a teenager was walking around the neighborhood, listening to my folk tapes."
"My English wasn't so good yet," she recalls now, "but I just loved the kind of melancholy, solitary aspect of the songs. And I could tell that these people were saying something important. That was profound and meaningful to me, even before I knew just what it was they were saying. It was like these artists were actually talking to me, not just making sounds."
She is uncomfortable talking about these years, but this other childhood is the key to the powerful, even revolutionary, empathy that informs everything she writes. It is the empathy of the exile, the outsider; the quiet one, wide-eyed and wary, staring out at a world that will not see her, will not show her a single place, or even moment, that feels like home. It is the empathy of someone who understands what it means when hurt becomes a way of life.
We love Antje Duvekot's new album "Big Dream Boulevard." A beautifully created, thought provoking adventure into the life of Antje Duvekot. She sings and tells her story in a way that few others can. Her rich and dark ballads will immerse you into the dark tales of Jerusalem and Judas. If you want to listen to an up and coming musicians, (currently #1 here in Boston Folk) then Antje is the one. Give her a listen today!