I am a sucker for the singer/songwriter style of writing. My lifelong love of bands like America and The Eagles gives testament to my fondness for gentle, story-oriented, accoustic songs. Today’s critique is based on just such a wonderful song by songwriter, Anthony Quails, and is titled “Scarlett.”
This lovely song follows a basic verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus form, followed by an eight-bar instrumental section and a final sparse revisiting of the first verse. The initial finger-picking intro that precedes everything was most evocative, and set the scene for Anthony’s story nicely.
I think the form works well, but I wouldn’t have minded hearing a bridge (third melodic section) in lieu of the final verse. This would require some lyrical rerouting, but I will get to that in the lyric section with a few alternative suggestions.
I very much like the simple narrative melody used in the first verse. The second verse begins to meander quite a bit from the first verse though, and I personally would have waited till later in the song to improvise a bit. I think it’s a good idea to get the tune established in the listener’s brain a bit more before deviating too much. Also, the places in the second verse where the melody climbs and leaps detract from those same types of spots in the second half of the chorus, in my opinion.
I like the rising elements of the third line of the chorus and might have used them in the first line as well. Keeping a few melodic tricks in the bag leaves you somewhere to go as the song reaches a lyrical crescendo.
Overall, the lyric is effective, but there were a few spots that I feel need a little work. Right off the bat, the phrase “where I used to stay” bothered me because it suggested a temporary situation, and yet the singer appears to be privy to Scarlett’s entire life story. “From my yesterdays” would work better, in my opinion and leaves fewer questions.
Soon after this area, some of the information felt out of sequence to me. To reveal that Scarlett danced for rent money in the first verse gave the story little time to evolve naturally. I do like the couplet though. Maybe you can foreshadow what is to come without coming right out and saying it. Perhaps, something like this:
"As a child she danced for the joy of it,
Not knowing one day it’d pay the rent."
I would assume her father’s leaving and her mother’s using drugs preceded her grown-up dancing. Yet, at eighteen, when she finds herself alone, she gets involved with the older man. So when did the dancing chapter occur?
I would recommend clarifying the sequence of events a little more. I also would like to know a little more about Scarlett’s connection to the singer. Did she grow up down the street from him?
"Scarlett was a name that a father gave
To a girl on a street where I used to play."
That way, it is clear that the singer had some first-hand knowledge of the events of Scarlett’s life and a clearer connection is made.
I like the chorus lyric. The only change I would make is in lines three and four.
"But, Scarlett, that cloud of darkness
Has a silver lining on the other side."
The third verse references “He” meaning the older gentleman. The trouble is, there is some distance between the line about him and the pronoun. The listener could easily assume the “he” was in reference to her father. Clarify here again.
Lines three and four of verse three could be much clearer too. Based on what is written, I could not envision the scenario. Was she living with him? This can be very simple fix. Just explain that she eventually found out that he had a wife he forgot to mention. We don’t need to know how she found out, only that she eventually did.
Before the instrumental, I might include a two-line bridge that waxes a little philosophical. You might try something that exemplifies the unforeseen light at the end of the tunnel, but in terms of your cloud metaphor. Then finish with an eight-bar instrumental and the first two lines of your final verse.
In my opinion, that says just enough without overkill. If you do keep your whole final verse, be aware that you are not following the rhyme scheme of the other verses.
The sort of song that immediately comes to mind when I think of this song’s genre is “Delilah.” There was a time when songs like this only found life in folk, country, and what we call "Americana" on this side of the pond, but those times are a changing!
Indie, alternative music is everywhere, and I think it’s market is only going to get bigger. Music always swings back in this direction when it gets away from it for awhile. The genre appeals to something genuine and basic in all of us. All the flash and dash gets old when one has a steady diet of it!
I applaud Anthony’s creation and hope my comments will be helpful. I really enjoyed listening to it and dissecting it as well! The simple demo was completely effective and sells the song. In cases like this one, less is definitely more!
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