The vibrato. That slippery wave at the end of a vocal phrase. A supernatural fluttering, like the tiny wings of invisible birds attached to the business end of a strong verse,struggling for flight or wavering towards rest in the solemn pillowy quiet.
Something some vocalists discover quite by accident, as natural as an exhale with smooth speed bumps, others train for years ruminating on scales and breath calisthenics, aching for control..find it hitchhiking along with the words and melody culled from some basement poetry or stranded thought scribbled in the invisible margin of a napkin with fresh coffee ring... these masters squeeze it through fibrous membrane, like tonal juice dripping off the tongue in a tiny tidal push toward the space between the ambient noise and the auto-tuned trickery of the desperate vocal gymnast....
To the listener it is the magic sprinkled on the end of a message, it is the smooth landing or the exhalted energy bursting from a shaky phrase. It is the poise, power and precision of the best of the best. a perfect vibrato can either warm your weary bones or chill them in magnificent awe.
Here are my top ten vocal vibrato masters. In no order of importance but with keen emphasis on power, beauty or control. Those with the most divine natural fluidity and delivery.
1) Burton Cummings- The canuck with the coolest pipes. lead singer of the Guess Who. Try and listen to "Laughing" , "Undun" or even his solo hit "Stand Tall" without the gooseflesh rolling in sync with his uncanny vocal glimmer.
2) Freddie Mercury- The greatest rock vocalist to ever inhabit this mortal coil(IMHO). And if he wasn't he would make the list for his performance on "Somebody to Love " alone. Quite possibly the greatest vocal take ever put to tape.. So many tricks in his arsenal, yet such beauty and power in his sly vibrato. Here we go.."Save Me", "Don't Stop Me Now", "Killer Queen", "Play the Game", fuck it...too many to list. We bow to you Fred. We will never be worthy.
3) Ray LaMontagne- The words flow like slowly melting butter from Ray's mouth washing over your moment in warm comfort. A complete natural, stunning control, effortless delivery. "Trouble", and "Be Here Now" are great starting points for you in the dark out there....
4) Alison Krauss -Alison's voice is like free transportation for anywhere you want your mind to go. A gossamer like blanket on a cold but windless day, a hovering hummingbird just outside an open ear..."Killing the Blues(with Robert Plant)", "Lay My Burden Down(With Union Station)"...restful poise for the restless.
5) Steve Marriott- of all the one of a kind vocalists on this list, Steve's voice confounds me(in a very good way) the most, because of his pitch and strength of delivery in the phrases. With the Small Faces and Humble Pie he possessed the combination of a cigarette rasp and the burst of high speed vibrato, unparalleled and at his mercy. No voice ever like it before or since...Check out "I'm Ready"(Live From Performance: Rocking the Fillmore) , "Black Coffee", and "Rolling Stone"(also from the Performance album)...you'll be pleasantly exhausted.
6) Brian Ferry- OMG. Brian could very well be my spirit animal if I had any say in the choosing. The Roxy Music frontman has one of the most unique voices on the planet(not in a Bjork-like jump out a window sort of way). A stoccatto vibrato with machine gun tempo, but bullets wrapped in velvet, exploding in orgasm on impact. "The Thrill of It All", "Love is the Drug", "Ladytron", "Re-Make/Re-Model", "For Your Pleasure".
7) Tim Buckley- Tim(father of Jeff) had his own topsy turvy career with gamut run from ethereal folk to experimental jazz and his voice was even more of a freak of natural occurrence. The extraordinary vibrato he possessed was stealthy and brewing from a place of disparate pain, but no less powerful for it. "Cafe", "Dream Lover","Song to the Siren", "Once I Was", "The River" will do you real good.
8) Stevie Nicks- In my dreams, your dreams everybody else's dreams and the dreams of those who aren't even born yet...lies a place for sweet Stevie and her wonderful voice. Yeah, she's lost a little power, klonopin and coke will do that to anyone. But in her glory years, whirling like a dhervish behind the whoosh of delicate lace, she could belt out the most glorious coo-like vibrato fine tuned for any emotion needed.."Seven Wonders", "Gypsy" and "Gold Dust Woman" for release, and "Sara" "Dreams" and "Landslide" for the moody drift of introspection. If only I could catch the wind from one of her twirls.............
9) Antony Hegarty- lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons. This androgynous doughy delight has unbelievable control over his vibrato, with a low key, almost low end operatic sensibility. Amazing tone and ease akin to Bryan Ferry with sweeping blips of whirr in mid phrase, but with twice the dramatic implement.
A must to seek out for his style alone, dig deep to find "Hope There's Someone" and "You Are My Sister".
10) Jeff Buckley- from the loins of father Tim, Jeff's almost limitless vocal talent sure leaves me to think there may be some genetic link going on here, not just some boy who lost his dad at an early age and listened to a lot of records. Everyone knows his take on Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen...but give the astounding presence of songs like "Lover You Should Have Come Over", "A Satisfied Mind", "Lilac Wine", "Everybody Here Wants You", "Forget Her" a try if you feel like stopping in your fucking tracks for a while. We miss you Jeff.....and Tim...and Freddie...and Steve.
Who did I miss.......let me know, Seano