The idea of a wandering musician living off the land and telling stories and conveying wisdom through song has been romanticized since the Middle Ages, hence the term "troubadour," which Merriam Webster defines as: "one of a class of lyric poets and poet-musicians often of knightly rank who flourished from the 11th to the end of the 13th century chiefly in the south of France and the north of Italy and whose major theme was courtly love compare trouvère."
While the Middle Ages and (hopefully) most of its customs and traditions have been washed away by the passing of time, troubadours did not go extinct. They are around, albeit rebranded under a new name: folk singers.
English singer-songwriter Jeff Kightly, in his new album with Bibliotheque's sub-label, Input Output Music (IOM), put on the troubadour hat and crafted a collection of songs exploring the human condition and telling stories full of love, loss, and self-discovery. His music lives in the same plane as those of Iron and Wine, Fleet Foxes, and Bon Iver Sufjan Stevens, with a dose of Clapton and a dash of Muddy Waters.
The album, aptly called Songbook: Tales of a Troubadour, is the perfect soundtrack for evocative ad campaigns and coming-of-age films.
Kightly started dabbling into music as a teenager when he discovered the cassette tape American Festival Folk Blues at his local library.
"It had John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, Lightnin' Hopkins on it," Kighlty said in an exclusive interview with APM Music. "I remember going home and listening to it. Press play and thinking, 'I love the sound of all of these songs!'"
Watch the interview.
He then went into a 70s rock phase, listening to early Eric Clapton, and was introduced to the music of Scottish folk artist Iain David McGeachy, also known as John Martyn. This rekindled his love for folk music, which led him to the music of Nick Drake. While taking on the straightforward singer-songwriter path, he also explored other musical ideas that are less structured, like Jazz.
"I got into Wes Montgomery and Miles Davis, John McLaughlin – Bitches Brew and Peaceful," Kightly said.
Songbook: Tales of a Troubadour began with Kightly gathering song ideas he had sketched in the last ten years and putting them together like a musical scrapbook – sonic memories from his journey through this thing we call life.
"I was walking the dog in the fields opposite my house, and I kind of thinking them all through, put them together a little bit, strip out the ones that didn't kind of connect well with the others," Kightly said, looking back at how he developed the concept for the album. "And after a few months, I had the kind of building blocks for all ten songs for the album, and they all kind of made sense."
Kightly is not a gearhead when it comes to recording. His setup is simple but effective: a laptop running a standard DAW, a few mics, and some usable plugins. However, he did emphasize that the most valuable tool in his studio is his Epiphone acoustic guitar, which he got in the US for ninety dollars when he was eighteen years old during a work exchange program in America.
"At eighteen, I did 'Camp America,' and it turned up; I hadn't realized that I was supposed to be the music person, that I was supposed to bring a guitar and strum around campfires each night so all the kids could sing," Kightly said. "I didn't have a guitar, so camp leaders took me to a shop in their local town and bought this (Epiphone) for like ninety dollars."
He then sent the guitar back to England as a souvenir, thinking it wouldn't make it given the arduous journey it would take. To his surprise, the guitar made it across the pond. It's his most precious instrument because of its old, gnarly sound reminiscent of the guitar tones he heard in that American Festival Folk Blues cassette.
"This is the thing that I will save in a fire," Kightly added.
Aside from the Epiphone, Kightly loves his Dean Flying V electric guitar, which he says is a joy to play for heavier rock stuff.
Jeff Kightly has been making music for a long time, and Songbook: Tales of a Troubadour encapsulates all that is brilliant about his music. It is powerful, sentimental, and simply beautiful.
Album highlights include:
Asked what advice he could impart to aspiring composers and musicians, the laid-back Englishman who embraces simplicity has this: "You can start really simply. If your ideas are sound, You don't need a lot of stuff to make nice-sounding music."
Now available for licensing through APM Music.
Stems, instrumentals and underscores are available.