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Male bands (Mumford and Sons, the Black Keys, Fun.), poppy collaborations (like Gotye and Kimbra’s tired duet), and, as Stereogum put it, predictable “mom-safe and Starbucks ready” favorites (Adele and Beyoncé) predominated the list of Grammy winners this year. Meanwhile, I’ve been struck by the array of refreshingly bold new female vocalists blossoming behind the mainstream. Quirky, fresh, raspy, vintage, or full of lungs, all five of them are under-the-radar but destined for bigger spotlights. Check out the videos below so you can say you heard them before they were famous.
Rachael Price (of Lake Street Dive):
Australian by birth, Nashvillian by pedigree, Price earned a degree in Jazz Studies from New England Conservatory and performed with T.S. Monk Sextet at jazz festivals around the world. After hearing a recording of Price in 2003, actress/singer Kathryn Grayson deemed her “the best young voice I’ve heard, period. No one around her can even touch her voice and style.” While Price mostly stuck to standards in her early career, she’s now departed from strictly jazz as a member of the indie group Lake Street Dive.
Price’s voice soars with clarity and classically trained precision. She can make the most of a Motown cover but also glides easily into blues, country, and pop. The video above, featuring Price belting out a relaxed cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” aptly showcases her glamor and command. But also make sure to listen to the band’s original song “Bad Self Portraits” (below), which has Price sounding like a young Bonnie Raitt. Bonus: Her band mate Bridget Kearney rocks it on the upright bass and has a lovely voice, too. Lake Street Dive just finished touring with Yonder Mountain String Band, will soon be touring with Josh Ritter, and has a date this week opening for Mavis Staples in Iowa.
Aluna Francis (of AlunaGeorge):
AlunaGeorge, featuring chanteuse Aluna Francis, is quickly becoming one of the breakout bands of 2013. Consisting of Francis and producer George Reid, the electronica group combines intimate vocals with synthesized pop, house, R&B, and dub-step. Though already pretty big in the UK—the duo nabbed second in BBC’s Sound of 2013 contest—Francis’ voice will likely get way more air time in the US in the coming year.
Francis, who is half Indian and half Jamaican, worked as a reflexologist and previously sang for the band My Toys Like Me. She first met Reid when he remixed one of My Toys’ songs, and they paired up and released their first commercial single (“Your Drums, Your Love,” above) late last year. Though minimalist and futuristic, AlunaGeorge’s songs are made human by Francis’ velvety touch. She imbues the pulsing drive of a late-night dance tune with soulful emotion, and her high-pitched timbre balances well with Reid’s beats, to a mysterious but alluring effect. “You can’t say I’m going nowhere, when you don’t know where I am from,” she croons. On the contrary, I’d say she’s barreling straight toward stardom. AlunaGeorge’s debut album, Body Music, is due out in June.
Luz Elena Mendoza (of Y La Bamba):
Portland-based band Y La Bamba draws from Mexican folk songs and mariachi singers as influence for its eerie tunes. Emerging in 2003, the band has enjoyed limited success in indie circuits, but never much widespread attention, apart from becoming one of NPR Music’s darlings. That could change this year, as they just wrapped up an East Coast tour alongside the Grammy-nominated Lumineers.