An expatriate New Yorker now living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, RICHARD SHINDELL, is a meticulous craftsman of song whose eight studio albums and 2 live recordings have been revered by critics and fans alike. Innovative, original and occasionally spiritual, Shindell’s songs weave tales that interchangeably champion the downtrodden, exalt the disaffected or wax empathetic to those lost to society’s fringes. From his first record, Sparrow’s Point (1992) to the newest album Not Far Now (2009), Shindell has demonstrated a penchant for songwriting at once passionate and profound. His songs are often slowly and painstakingly crafted until honed to perfection. Conversely, he is also capable of writing tunes that are simply clever and amusing.
Shindell’s songwriting is truly eclectic, ranging from lighthearted ballads and adulterous love songs, to dirges and diatribes that skillfully skewer politics, prejudice, war and religion. He has a unique ability to morph into the soul of the many and varied personalities he casts as narrators in certain songs–songs that are veritable novellas framed in haunting acoustic melodies, sometimes including cryptic, revelations through the eyes of a woman.
Born in New Jersey, Mr. Shindell grew up in Port Washington, Long Island, where he began to take guitar lessons. He spent the last of his teenage years in Baltimore, then attended Hobart College in upstate New York, where he continued to pursue his musical interests. During an earlier stint at Moravian College, he teamed with John Gorka in the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band.
Upon graduation, Shindell moved into a Zen Buddhist monastery for a while, leaving to explore Europe, and ending up the proverbial struggling musician in Paris, where he would often play for coins in the underground Metro train stations.
Leaving the city of light, Shindell found himself in New York, where he took a hiatus from music. Fascinated by philosophy and religion, he enrolled in Union Theological Seminary. Between classes, he began to write and finished what he calls his first “keeper song,” a melodic if cryptic ode to the Virgin Mary composed on the mountain dulcimer called “On A Sea Of Fleur de Lis.”
Fortunately, it didn’t take much to convince the New Jersey-based independent record label, Shanachie, that Mr. Shindell was a songwriter worth signing. Shindell produced three records under the Shanachie label, including Sparrow’s Point (1992), Blue Divide (1994) and Reunion Hill (1997), which won the AFIM “Best Contemporary Folk Album” the following year in 1998.
With each successive record, Shindell toured relentlessly, and built a solid following of loyal fans. In 1997, he was invited to join Joan Baez on tour and opened the eyes and ears of a new segment of folk music enthusiasts to his talents as a songwriter and performer.
In 1998, Shindell joined the acoustic trio, Cry Cry Cry, with Dar Williams and Lucy Kaplansky. Along with a little help from their friends, Cry Cry Cry produced an eponymously titled album (Razor & Tie Records) comprised largely of cover songs of lesser-known artists. The trio toured from 1998 until 2000, leaving audiences spellbound with their unique three-part harmonies.
In 2000, Shindell released Somewhere Near Patterson (Signature Sounds), which quickly became his most successful release to date. Produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Larry Campbell, longtime member of the Bob Dylan Band, and currently working with Levon Helm, its release was followed by a comprehensive tour that played to sold-out shows across the country and established Shindell as one of the premier performing songwriters in popular music. Somewhere Near Patterson was followed by Courier, the live reprise of many of Shindell’s best-loved songs.
Also in 2000, Shindell and his family moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he recorded Vuelta (Koch Records, 2004). For this project he joined up with Puente Celeste, a distinctly Argentine group of virtuouso musicians.
2007 saw the release of a collection of covers, South of Delia, marking Shindell’s first foray into (co)-production (with Greg Anderson). To say that South of Delia is a record of covers, however, would not do justice to the spirit of this project. It is a deeply personal choice of songs that Shindell offers up here — that of an expatriate looking back at the country he moved away from. With guest appearances by Lucy Kaplansky, Viktor Krauss, Richard Thompson, Tony Trischka, Eliza Gilkyson and others, South of Delia offers up new interpretations of songs such as Acadian Driftwood (Robbie Robertson), Seor (Bob Dylan), and Deportee (Woody Guthrie). Shindell also thoroughly rehabilitates Springsteen’s often misunderstood Born in the USA.
Returning to originals, Not Far Now (also a co-production between Shindell and Anderson) was released in 2009. He is currently working on two projects: a relatively spare, no-frills revisit of some of the songs from his catalogue, and a record of new originals.