It’s time to be random. We’re going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and land on four random selections. After that, we’ll choose from those four a single for the day. We’ll ignore anything from before 1940, but weirdness will be embraced.
First up is “I Am Not A Poet (Night Song)” by Melanie from her 1972 album Stoneground Words. “I am not a poet, living is the poem. I am not a singer, I am in the song,” Melanie sings. It sounds like standard Melanie in her seventh charting album of new material since 1969, but the album is well-regarded by All Music Guide, which calls it “mature, intelligent and ambitious” and an “under-heard classic” on which Melanie Safka “effectively shed her cuteness but didn’t get cynical, either.” “I Am Not A Poet” is a pleasant song, mainly about the struggle to be heard and understood – “I’ve found a tearful language that translates what I am/And I cried out loud, but you didn’t understand” – and from more than forty years down the pike, its simplistic hippie mysticism, and its long mid-point vamp with its gradual sonic build-up and drop-out, still have their attractions.
We stay in that era for our second stop this morning, landing on “Watermelon” from guitarist Leo Kottke’s 1971 album on John Fahey’s Takoma label, 6- and 12-String Guitar. I often get this album confused with 12-String Blues, an album released in 1969 on Oblivion, and when tunes from either one of them pop up, I have to stop and sort them out. Also confused is Wikipedia, which has 6- and 12-String Guitar on the correct label but in 1969. Someone should correct that, I suppose, but it’s not going to be me this morning. I’m just listening to Kottke’s rhythmic thrumming as he makes his way through the instrumental. I know from having heard him three times in concert that his pieces can eventually all sound numbingly similar, but taken one at a time, the artistry and singular style is evident, and “Watermelon” is no exception.
Moving on, we don’t move far, staying in the Woodstock era with a visit to “Sons Of” from Judy Collins’ 1970 album Whales & Nightingales. Written by the imposing quartet of Eric Blau, Gérard Jouannest, Jacques Brel and Mort Shuman (Jouannest and Brel wrote the original French version and Blau and Shuman crafted the English lyrics), the song is one I’ve not noticed before (despite occasional listens to Whales & Nightingales). It’s an affecting piece:
Sons of tycoons, or sons from the farms
All of the children ran from your arms.
Through fields of gold, through fields of ruin,
All of the children vanished too soon.
Collins’ voice and delivery and the understated accompaniment work brilliantly, making the song something that draws on both her folk roots and on her late-1960s art song period. (Its sound reminds me very much of Wildflowers, the Collins album I know best.) It is folk? Is it art song? Is it pop? Who cares? It’s beautiful.
And we break from the late 1960s/early 1970s era in style if not in actual time by landing on “Winnie Widow Brown” by one of my R&B faves, Big Maybelle. The thumping tale of the woman with ball and chain who is “a widow ’cause she shot her man” chugs along with a blues harp riding high in the background. I’m not sure when the track was recorded, but it showed up in 1973, a year after Maybelle Brown passed away, on a collection called The Last of Big Maybelle. Some of the tracks on the album – which I found on CD – were from an entire 1969 album, and some were listed in the notes as having been released as singles over a period of ten years, from 1963 through 1973. Six of the tracks, however, were less well-documented, and sadly, “Winnie Widow Brown” is one of those. Its style is of a kind with Big Maybelle’s other work, and it’s a lot of fun, but I’d be happier if I knew more about it. If I don’t know where something comes from, I’m not very happy about sharing it.
And it’s really no contest this morning. The beautiful “Sons Of” by Judy Collins is today’s Saturday Single.