As observed in the liner notes to the Bright Size Records reissue of Atlanta musician Cy Timmons 1974 album "The World's Greatest Unknown", the term singer-songwriter arrived in Japan from America in around 1970. That tag travelled the world on the backs of a generation of astute and intimate lyricists and musicians such as Harry Nilsson, Jackson Browne, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King, and yet, for every mega star of the form, there were equal talents who, often due to the limitations of self-releasing music, and other factors - remained in the shadows.
Cy Timmons was one of these figures, a vocalist, songwriter and guitarist who filtered a love of great American musical traditions like cool jazz, traditional pop and early R&B through a mournful, lazy Sunday style of bossa nova and samba sometimes dubbed batida Americana. Cy honed his craft as an entertainer at venues like Atlanta's Café Erewhon - which he owned and operated - and learned a great deal from Judy Davis of Oakland, California, a celebrity vocal coach whose students included Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Mary Martin and Barbra Streisand.
You can hear something of Sinatra and his England-based contemporaries Scott Walker and Matt Munro in Cy's luxuriously smooth voice - a voice sent from heaven - and also something of the pop psychedelia of the Brazilian legend Milton Nascimento. In conjunction with the hyper-expressive and percussive classical guitar style he operated from as a baseline, the eleven dreamy, late night torch songs that make up "The World's Greatest Unknown" deliver on the album's grandiose but self-deprecating title. Something interesting to note about Cy and his work is how he uses his voice to imitate the sounds created by flutes, trombones and synthesizers, adding additional levels of lush ambience to these vibe-drenched tracks.
Bright Size Records reissue of "The World's Greatest Unknown" was mastered at half-speed cut by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios and comes with extensive liner notes including a full-length interview conducted by Cedric Bardawil. It's the sort of package an album like this deserves, and if this all tickles your fancy, you'll be pleased to know they're done something very similar with Cy's 1998 album "Heaven's Gate".
"The World's Greatest Unknown" is out now in LP format through Bright Size Records (order here)