Laura Gibson and Some Thoughts on the Clarinet

Good afternoon Dig Nation. I spent the morning digging through the interwebs admiring videos from one of my favorite female singer/songwriters Laura Gibson when I found this video for her beautiful song Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed. The song is from her album La Grande which can be purchased here.

The video was shot in 2011 by the good folks over at Mason Jar Music and features the duo of Laura Gibson on guitar and vocals, and Aleksandr Karjaka on clarinet. What struck me about this video wasn't just the intimacy of Gibson's principled stare as she sang with her elegant and honest voice, but the moment when she steps out of the street and into the elevator only to be immediately accompanied by Aleksandr on clarinet.

The blend between the guitar and the clarinet offers such a wonderful and full tone that I cannot believe that more musicians are not using it this effectively. Maybe this is because when most people think about the clarinet their minds drift off to some generalization of a sleepy symphony, an old timey dance hall, or their 6th grade band recital, and not a pop band. Case in point – Glenn Miller: Moonlight Serenade.

The clarinet is a badass instrument and people need to drop these dusty preconceived notions. If I were taking you on a listening tour I would start you in the heart of the Blue Note jazz era with Out to Lunch! by Eric Dolphy. This record is a must have and for some reason it's one I've always liked to spin it while I'm throwing down in the kitchen. Plus the opening track, Hat and Beard, is a nod to another jazz luminary Thelonious Monk which is awesome. Dig it.

The Low Anthem is a band that also frequently uses the clarinet to add interest and orchestration to their compositions. I first encountered this three piece at the Newport Folk Festival a few years back and was absolutely floored by their song, This God Damn House. which can be found on their 2007 release What the Crow Brings.

What I admire about this song is the same thing that I admired in Laura Gibson's – blend, balance, and beauty of tone. The harmonies are simple, but this leaves room for story telling and an infectious vocal melody in perpetual two part harmony. Furthermore, the orchestration of clarinet, euphonium, and eventually whistling with amplified cell phone echoes are an effective and engaging way to fill out the layers above the simple harmonies provided by the harmonium.

It's simple, it's clean, it's a full beautiful tone, and it's a clarinet. It's not just for Squidward anymore. As such, I decree henceforth that we should be hearing more clarinet in popular music! So go into the back section of your parents basement storage closet, find that old clarinet you used to play, and go start a band. You could also just hit me up in the comments section of this article and let us know what your favorite examples of clarinet are. We do so love to hear from our readers. You dig?