An expatriate New Yorker now living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Richard Shindell is a meticulous craftsman of song whose five studio albums and one live recording 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 Vuelta (2004), 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 with sights on the priesthood. "I thought I would be a pastoral psychotherapist, someone who practices psychology in the context of the church," Mr. Shindell recalls. 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." Other songs soon followed and Shindell realized that songwriting, rather than the priesthood, was in his future.
"It just sort of happened," Shindell says. "And it was a huge surprise, because I had stopped playing guitar for about a year. But I knew that finishing three songs didn’t mean I was a songwriter. It was only after I wrote enough songs worth keeping that I realized I could do this. I was rather cynical and had to convince myself."
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 formed 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 Larry Campbell, longtime member of the Bob Dylan Band, 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, in support of which he continues to tour.
Also in 2000, Shindell and his family moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he recorded his latest album, Vuelta (Koch Records, 2004). For this project he joined up with Puente Celeste, a distinctly Argentine group of virtuouso musicians.