Uncut’s 50 best singer-songwriter albums

Including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and more

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31 Bruce Springsteen
Tunnel Of Love
(Columbia, 1987)

If the oddly formal sleeve credit – “Thanks Julie” – told some of the story, the songs on Springsteen’s most nakedly personal record filled in the blanks. With his brief marriage to model Julianne Phillips floundering, he turned inward to tackle, in the words of the title track, “You, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of.” On “Brilliant Disguise”, he sings “I wanna know if it’s you I don’t trust, because I damn sure don’t trust myself.” On “Walk Like A Man” marriage is a “mystery ride”; on “Two Faces” “our life is just a lie.” And on “One Step Up”, “Another fight and I slam the door on/Another battle in our dirty little war.” Within a year, he and Phillips had filed for divorce.


32 Mark Eitzel
Songs Of Love
(Diablo, 1991)

Stripped of the nuances offered by American Music Club, this solo album, recorded live at London’s Borderline on January 17, 1991, adds up to almost unbearably intimate exploration of Eitzel’s songbook, each page torn from his combustible life in San Francisco. Featuring just Eitzel and his acoustic guitar, the songs touch on the death of friends and family (“Blue And Grey Shirt”), AIDS (“Western Sky”), alcohol and drug abuse (“Outside This Bar”), and, on “Kathleen”, his relationship with a long-term muse. Eitzel’s intense, self-deprecating presence – “I’m always fucking this part up!” he squirms during a guitar break – only adds to the drama.

33 Nick Lowe
The Impossible Bird
(Demon, 1994)

The elegant country, soul and Americana Lowe has mined on his last half-dozen albums began with this release, partly inspired by the end of his five-year relationship with broadcaster Tracey MacLeod, whom he first met when she interviewed him for BBC2’s The Late Show. After the break-up, MacLeod started dating another veteran singer-songwriter, Loudon Wainwright. Lowe chronicles the emotional fallout directly in a triptych of tearjerkers comprising “Lover Don’t Go” (“There’s a hollow in the bed where your body used to be”), “Withered On The Vine” and “14 Days”, although there’s a more upbeat tone to “Drive-Thru Man”, in which he cajoles himself to get a grip on his emotions (“Take a look outside/It wouldn’t kill you to lift that blind”).


34 Steve Earle
I Feel Alright
(E-Squared/Warner Bros, 1996)

Earle spent four months in jail for narcotics offences in 1994, which prompted much soul-searching, not least about his 26-year dependence on heroin. Finally clean, he dusted down his old songbook with the acoustic set Train A Comin’ before tackling his addictions more directly on I Feel Alright. The title track opens the album on a note of defiant optimism (“Be careful what you wish for, friend/Because I’ve been to hell and now I’m back again”) and while Earle’s writing is rarely transparently autobiographical he addresses his situation on “South Nashville Blues” and “CCKMP (Cocaine Can’t Kill My Pain)”. On “The Unrepentant”, our “hellbound” hero addresses the devil directly, with a loaded .44.

35 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The Boatman’s Call
(Mute, 1997)

Cave has acknowledged that The Boatman’s Call is “the setting down of the facts of a couple of relationships… what you hear is what happened.” The relationships in question were with his first wife, Viviane Carneiro, and subsequently with Polly Harvey, who collaborated on his previous album, Murder Ballads. Carneiro is bid a gruff goodbye in “Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?”, Harvey welcomed with the nakedly descriptive “Green Eyes”, “Black Hair” and “West Country Girl”. Cave has since appeared somewhat sheepish about The Boatman’s Call, as we often do when recalling our own behaviour when the answer to the question “Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?” turns out to be “No”.


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