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Ladies from the Canyon

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Two recent books, Michael Walker's Laurel Canyon and Barney Hoskyns' Hotel California, both examine the SoCal folk- and country-rock scene of the early '70s. Inevitably, it's the canyon rock genre's post-boom cocaine hangover that supplies the juiciest anecdotes. What might have given the volumes greater sociological heft would have been a look at the movement's ripple effects: charting the wannabe Joni Mitchells, James Taylors and CSNs that sprung up across America.

Serendipitously, though, we've got Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From the Canyon (The Numero Group) to do the job. It's the latest from the über-eclectic Chicago label Numero's deep-vault -- or, more accurately, deep-thrift store -- investigations into lost sounds and vanished eras. Numero turns its lens upon those daughters of Joni who, perhaps unable to head westward with flowers in their hair, lived out their Laurel Canyon fantasies in regional coffeehouses and church basements.

There's plenty here for archivally-minded sorts and contemporary freak-folkers alike: Santa Barbara's Collie Ryan (the acoustic, Joan Baez-like "Cricket," with some odd psychedelic echo), Wichita's Linda Rich (a baroque, subtly orchestral "Sunlight Shadow"), the overtly Joni-esque warbling of Bloomington's Caroline Peyton ("Engram" -- Peyton went on to Broadway musicals and Disney cartoons) and a somewhat stiff cover of the Stones' "Sister Morphine" by NYC's Ellen Warshaw (who landed a Vanguard contract).

A hefty 32-page booklet supplies a biographical précis (as much as could be unearthed) for each artist, along with lyrics. Taken out of context, lines from, say, Boulder's Carla Sciaky's "And I a Fairytale Lady," may seem irredeemably treacly: "When I was younger/I did dream/Now I am older/And I see/I still dream." Whoah -- call the McKuen cops! Yet framed by fluttery piano and guitar and sunkissed by Sciaky's waif-like voice, it's a moment wonderfully suspended in time. Ah, to be young, stoned and up to my ass in hippie-chick pulchritude again.

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