Sunday, 2 July 2017

"Milk Of The Tree: An Anthology Of Female Vocal Folk & Singer-Songwriters 1966-73" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (June 2017 Grapefruit 3CD Box Set) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Give Her The Day..."

Like many collectors and fans of the late 60ts and early 70ts - I've been singing the praises of Cherry Red's 'Grapefruit' label for some time now. I acquired and reviewed two three-CD sets they did in late 2016 called "I'm A Freak, Baby" and "Let's All Go Down And Blow Our Minds" - wads of Heavy Psych, Hard Rock and 1967 Trippy Vibes.

Well here comes another threesome but this time with a more gentile theme and a far wider range. "Milk Of The Tree..." offers up 60 songs from female trailblazers primarily in the Folk and Folk-Rock fields between 1966 and 1973 – some well known names and many that shouldn't be forgotten. I've been looking forward to this Mini Box Set for some months now and in the main it hasn't disappointed. Here are the Ladies Of The Canyon...

UK released Friday, 30 June 2017 (7 July 2017 in the USA) - "Milk Of The Tree: An Anthology Of Female Vocal Folk and Singer-Songwriters 1966-73" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Cherry Red/Grapefruit CRSEGBOX039 (Barcode 5013929183902) is a 60-Track 3CD Mini Box Set compilation of Remasters that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (74:45 minutes):
1. Do You Believe - MELANIE (from the November 1972 US LP "Stoneground Words" on Neighborhood NRS 47005)
2. Blessed Are... - JOAN BAEZ (from the July 1971 US 2LP set "Blessed Are..." on Vanguard VSD 6570/1)
3. Light Flight - THE PENTANGLE (from the October 1969 UK 7" single on Transatlantic/Big T Records BIG 128, A-side)
4. Foolish Seasons - DANA GILLESPIE (from the October 1968 US Stereo LP "Foolish Seasons" on London PS 540)
5. Someone To Talk My Troubles To - JUDY RODERICK (from the December 1965 US LP "Woman Blue" on Vanguard VSD 79197)
6. Auntie Aviator - JOHN and BEVERLEY MARTYN (from the December 1970 UK LP "The Road To Ruin" on Island ILPS 9133)
7. Flying Away - THE SERPENT POWER (from the December 1967 US Stereo LP "The Serpent Power" on Vanguard VSD 79252)
8. It Could Have Been Better - JOAN ARMATRADING (from her debut November 1972 UK LP "Whatever's For Us" on Cube Records HIFLY 12)
9. Morning Morgantown - JUDE [featuring the Fickle Pickle] (Not originally issued, recorded mid 1970)
10. If Not By Fire - MANDY MORE (from the June 1972 UK LP "But That Is Me" on Phillips 6308 109)
11. Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp - LAURA NYRO (from the November 1970 US LP "Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat" on Columbia KC 30259)
12. I Thought I Knew The Answers - SUSAN PILLSBURY (from the November 1973 US LP "Susan Pillsbury" on Sweet Fortune SFS 804)
13. Give Her The Day - JAKI WHITREN (March 1973 UK 7" single on Epic S EPC 1338, A-side)
14. By The Sea - WENDY & BONNIE [Wendy & Bonnie Flowers] (from the June 1969 US LP "Genesis" on Skye Records SK 10060)
15. Come And Stay With Me - JACKIE DeSHANNON (from the November 1968 US Stereo LP "Laurel Canyon" on Imperial LP 12415)
16. Something Better - MARIANNE FAITHFULL (February 1969 UK withdrawn 7" single on Decca F 12889, B-side of "Sister Morphine")
17. An Everyday Consumption Song - SPIROGYRA [feat Barbara Gaskin on Lead Vocals] (from the April 1973 UK LP "Bells, Boots And Shambles" on Polydor 2310 246)
18. The Milk Of The Tree - POLLY NILES (not originally issued, recorded circa August 1969)
19. Chelsea Girls - NICO (from the October 1967 US LP "Chelsea Girl" on Verve V 5032)
20. Reverie For Roslyn - MARY-ANNE [Mary-Anne Paterson] (from the April 1970 UK LP "Me" on Joy Records JOYS 162)

Disc 2 (72:34 minutes):
1. Different Drum - THE STONE PONEYS [featuring Linda Ronstadt on Lead Vocals] (September 1967 USA 7" single on capitol 2004, A-side)
2. Please (MK. II) - ECLECTION (November 1968 USA 7" single on Elektra 45046, A-side)
3. Five Of Us - JADE [featuring Marian Segal on Lead Vocals] (from the July 1970 UK LP "Fly On Strangewings" on DJM Records DJLPS 407)
4. Who Has Seen The Wind? - THE SIMON SISTERS [Carly and Lucy Simon] (from the April 1969 US LP "The Simon Sisters Sing The Lobster Quadrille And Other Songs For Children" on Columbia CC 24506)
5. Jesus Was A Crossmaker - JUDEE SILL (October 1971 US 7" single on Asylum AS 11000, A-side)
6. January's Snow - THE WOODS BAND [featuring Gay and Terry Woods] (from the December 1971 UK LP on Greenwich GSLP 1004)
7. In My Loneliness - TRADER HORNE [featuring Judy Dyble on Lead Vocals] (from the March 1970 UK LP "Morning Way" on Dawn DNLS 3004)
8. Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking) - JANIS IAN (September 1966 USA 7" single on Verve Folkways KF 5027, A-side)
9. I Was - LILY & MARIA [Lily Fiszman and Maria Neumann] (from the October 1968 US LP "Lily & Maria" on Columbia CS 9707)
10. Feeling High - MELLOW CANDLE (August 1968 UK 7" single on SNB Records 55-3645, A-side)
11. Tomorrow Come Someday - TOMORROW COME SOMEDAY (from the January 1970 UK Privately-Pressed LP "Tomorrow Come Someday" on Sound News Productions SNP 97/98)
12. My Silk And Fine Array - JULIE COVINGTON (from the album "The Beautiful Changes" on Columbia SCX 6466)
13. Red Wine And Promises - NORMA WATERSON (November 1972 UK 7" single on Transatlantic/Big T Records BIG 507, A-side)
14. Mr. Fox - MR. FOX (from the November 1970 UK LP "Mr. Fox" on Transatlantic TRA 226)
15. The Dream Tree - BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE (from the September 1969 US LP "Illuminations" on Vanguard VSD 79300)
16. Munching The Candy - THE ACADEMY featuring POLLY PERKINS (March 1969 UK 7" single on Morgan Blue Town BTS 2, A-side)
17. Late November - SANDY DENNY (from the May 1971 LP "The North Star Grassman And The Ravens" on Island ILPS 9165)
18. Tomorrow Your Sorrow - HENDRICKSON ROAD HOUSE (from the December 1970 US LP "Hendrickson Road House" on Two: Dot Records HRH 81670)
19. Mornings - CHUCK & MARY PERRIN (from the January 1969 US LP "The Chuck and Mary Perrin Album" on Webster's Last Word Records WLW 2010)
20. Mr. Rubin - LESLEY DUNCAN (from the September 1971 UK LKP "Sing Children Sing" on CBS Records S 64202)

Disc 3 (76:44 minutes):
1. Come Into The Garden - CHIMERA (Not originally issued, recorded circa mid-1970)
2. Early Morning Blues And Greens - DIANE HILDERBRAND (from the December 1968 US LP on Elektra EKS 74031)
3. Rainy Day - SUSAN CHRISTIE (Not originally issued, recorded 1969)
4. Autumn Lullaby - BRIDGET St. JOHN (from the August 1969 UK LP "Ask Me No Questions" on Dandelion 63750)
5. Ballad (Of The Big Girl Now And A Mere Boy) - PRINCIPAL EDWARDS MAGIC THEATRE (December 1969 UK 7" single on Dandelion Records 4405, A-side)
6. Windy - RUTHANN FRIEDMAN (Not originally issued, recorded 1968)
7. The Lonely - DESIGN (from the January 1971 USA LP "Design" on Epic Records E 30224)
8. Mirage - SHELAGH McDONALD (from the November 1970 UK LP "The Shelagh McDonald Album" on B&C Records CAS 1010)
9. Aderyn Llwyd (Sparrow) – MARY HOPKIN (June 1969 UK 7" single on Cambrian CSP 703, A-side. A Gallagher & Lyle song)
10. Love Song - VASHTI BUNYAN (May 1966 UK 7" single on Columbia DB 7917, B-side of "Train Song")
11. Sandman's Song - ANNE BRIGGS (from the November 1971 UK LP "The Time Has Come" on CBS Records S 64612)
12. When Will I Be Loved – THE BUNCH [featuring members of Fairport Convention and Fotheringay including Sandy Denny and Linda Peters who duet on vocals here] (April 1972 UK 7" single on island WIP 6130, A-side. An Everly Brothers cover)
13. The Lady And The Well – CAROLANNE PEGG (from the April 1974 UK LP "Carolanne" on Transatlantic TRA 266)
14. Think Of Rain – MARGO GURYAN (from the October 1968 US LP "Take A Picture" on Bell Records 6022)
15. Story Of Our Time/Beneath This Sky – ITHICA [featuring Peter Howell and John Ferninando] (from the 1973 privately-pressed LP “A Game For All We Know” on Merlin Records HF 6)
16. Murdoch – TREES [featuring Celia Humphries (nee Drummond) on Lead Vocals] (from the February 1971 UK LP “On The Shore” on CBS Records 64168)
17. Banquet On The Water – THE SALLYANGIE [featuring Sally & Mike Oldfield] (from the December 1968 UK LP "Children Of The Sun" on Transatlantic TRA 176)
18. Banquet On The Water – THE SALLYANGIE [featuring Sally & Mike Oldfield on Lead Vocals and Guitars] (from the December 1968 UK LP "Children Of The Sun" on Transatlantic TRA 176)
19. Pass The Night – EMILY MUFF [featuring Kathy Bushnell and Janet Dourit] (Previously Unreleased, recorded April 1972)
20. Morgan The Pirate – MIMI FARINA (from the December 1968 US LP "Memories" on Vanguard VSD 79263)

Compiled and Managed by reissue champs JOHN REED and DAVID WELLS - the 42-page booklet is a feast on both the eyes and the grey matter. Page after page of DAVID WELLS liner notes go deep into the artists and their backgrounds whilst rare 7" single picture sleeves, publicity photos, label repro's, acetates, demo copies, trade adverts all illuminate the text. It's a huge amount of effort and the details often amaze and amuse in equal measure. The mastering has been done by SIMON MURPHY over at Another Planet Music and naturally with so many disparate sources - the Audio varies like wildfire - gorgeous one moment to hissy-acceptable the next. But overall the quality is really good and with many of these ladies recorded by major labels - way better than that...

Disc 1 (Jackie DeShannon pictured) opens on a wee beauty - the slow and moving "Do You Believe" where Melanie Safka warbles out a passionate vocal that feels like a lost epic that shouldn't have gotten overlooked. "...In the shadow of God they sleep...blessed are the huddled hikers staring out at falling rain..." - Joan Baez writes of a confused generation in the double-album "Blessed Are..." - a song where parents are weeping for the young ones who've died in someone else's war far away. Perhaps dreaming of sexier things Dana Gillespie gives us the Simon & Garfunkel-cute "Foolish Seasons" - a very hooky melody where she wishes she could die in the ice cold of her winter heart. Getting older and thinking of all the things she's done - Judy Roderick comes on like a young Joni in "Someone To Talk My Troubles To" while the brilliant "Auntie Aviator" from John and Beverley Martyn only makes me want to absolutely anything on Island Records by the great man and his lovely wife. Yorkshire lass Judith 'Jude' Willey finally gets her demo of Joni Mitchell's "Morning Morgantown" an airing here with the Fickle Pickle acting as her backing band and Mandy More too - but I find both tracks generally weak to what went before.

Not so the soaring Laura Nyro song "Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp" that feels older and wiser than 1970. A rather lovely discovery comes in the form of "I Thought I Knew The Answers" by Susan Pillsbury – a 1973 track that features guitarist Jay Berliner and Bassist Richard Davis who’d famously played on Van the Man’s "Astral Weeks" in 1968. Pillsbury and her vocal style is similar to Tim Buckley (in a good way) and Wells is right to say that Jaki Whitren deserved chart success with the lovely and moving "Give Her The Day" (I used to see the 1973 Epic LP "Raw But Tender" in the racks of Cheapo Cheapo where you couldn’t give it away). Barbara Gaskin and her airy Lead Vocals gives the Acid-Folk of "An Everyday Consumption Song" a period whimsy no man could. The title track for the Box Set turns out to be a John Barry cover – the flipside of “Goldfnger” from way back in 1964 – another lightweight jangle. "Reverie For Roslyn" is a pretty Disc 1 finisher - but the best here for me is the Marianne Faithfull B-side to "Sister Morphine" called "Something Better" – just as brilliant and stinging as the A-side that would eventually become immortalised on "Sticky Fingers" in 1971 by The Stones.  Another discovery on a first disc full of them...

Disc 2 (Buffy Sainte-Marie pictured) opens with the familiar Mike Nesmith melody of "Different Drum" by The Stone Poneys - a band that of course featured future superstar Linda Ronstadt on Lead Vocals (as brilliant a single as ever came out of the late 60's). I can't say I'm enamoured with either the dreadful Simon Sisters or Eclection tracks - might have been better to use the beautiful "My Luv Is Like A Red, Red Rose" with a killer Carly vocal. But those are forgotten once you clap your ears on "Five Of Us" by Jade - or Silver Jade as they're sometimes known. Fronted by a superb vocalist in Marian Segal - the album-track feels like it's Mellow Candle "Swaddling Songs" good and worth every penny of its £200 Rare Record Price Guide valuation. I would have used "The Kiss" instead of "Jesus Was A Crossmaker" - but any Judee Sill is good news in my books. The Gay and Terry Woods Traditional cover of "January's Snows" bears a close resemblance to the melody of the gorgeous "She Moves Through The Fair" and even if it is a bit hissy and badly recorded - it's full of feel and is the kind of Folk-Rock find collectors get weak at the knees about.

Janis Ian shows her extraordinary writing chops in "Society's Child..." - a tune she penned at 14 about a mixed couple who get the authority's interracial tights in a tangle - it's baroque melodrama rhythms incredibly poignant and wise for a song cut in August 1965. Lily Fiszman and Maria Neumann get their (rather hissy) moment with "I Was" - a love song that trembles under the weight of its own search for tenderness. Unreleased or not Tomorrow Come Sunday is fey-Nico and probably better left in the can. Julie Covington successfully blends William Blake with guitar-led Folk Rock on the excellent "My Silks And Fine Array" (great audio too). Updated English Folk starts to show up a lot on Disc 2. "...Fell in the street in a drunken heap...I don’t nobody helping me..." moans Norma Waterson in the brill boozy ballad "Red Wine And Promises" – shameless and gut-hurting real like cheap red wine and the painful morning light. More misery follows as a poor maid falls fowl of the sly and violent "Mr. Fox" who cuts a girl only to have his comeuppance at the teeth of ravenous dogs (nice).

You forget how powerful Buffy Sainte-Marie's voice can be especially when she wraps that tremble around the worries and yearnings of women waiting for their sailor men to return unharmed and whole - long for one who is longing for me in "The Dream Tree". Dodgy substances surface in "Munching The Candy" where The Academy sings with a smile on their collective flower-painted faces. Uber rarities ahoy with Chuck & Mary Perrin and Hendrickson Road House - two US groups the first of which contained Sue Eakins and the second Chuck Perrin of The Shaggs. The HRH track is almost Jazz-Folk with great guitar work while "Mornings" is simple acoustic-guitar and voice folk with a superb lead from Mary Perrin - like The Mamas & Papas doing unplugged - undoubtedly a highlight on here. "Mr. Rubin" comes from Lesley Duncan's wonderful "Sing Children Sing" album from 1971 - a woman whose 'don't vote against love' voice and songwriting talent graced Elton's "Tumbleweed Connection" and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon". Coupled with Sandy Denny's "Late November" - both highlight the sheer talent and emotional reach amongst the English ladies.

Disc 3 (Vashti Bunyan pictured) opens with an unreleased cut from Lisa Bankoff and Francesca Garnett fronting Chimera as 'children of the sun'. The shadows of Grace Slick's Jefferson Airplane and Sandy Denny's Fairport Convention fill the trippy Folk-Rock soundscape as the guitars and voices chime (Pink Floyd's Drummer Nick Mason was the band's manager). "Early Morning Blues And Greens" brings the musical vibe firmly into Laurel Canyon Americana as Diane Hildebrand awakes to freshly scented sycamores and cold bare feet on someone's hardwood floor (this song was featured on the "Forever Changing: Elektra Records..." 5CD Box Set in 2006). I've lovely and reviewed the Bridget St. John material - her Nico-like vocals beguiling again here. The fey hippy 'he walks like a child' track by Principal Edwards Magic Theatre will probably bring some out in a flute-induced rash - better is a trio of goodies from The Association/Jefferson Airplane associated Ruthann Friedman, the wistful acoustic harmony-vocal of Design in their Jimmy Webb-sounding "The Lonely" which has very clever brass jabs and 5th Dimension big choruses. But best is Shelagh McDonald whose "Mirage" track features of wad of cult luminaries - Keith Christmas and Andy Roberts on Guitars, Keith Tippett on Piano with Tristan Fry on Vibes. It even has Robert Kirby who did Nick Drake’s work as the Arranger. It's driving flick-guitar vs. vibes rhythm feels like Fairport crossed with a jazzy Pentangle. I can so hear why this 1970 debut and the "Star Gazer" from 1971 both attract the interest of so many collectors (they clock in at £200 each in 2017 if you can find copies).

The Mary Hopkin track which is a Welsh version of a Gallagher & Lyle song called "Sparrow" has to be one of the most bizarre covers I've ever heard and unfortunately isn't likely to be to anyone’s tastes. Darling of the thousand-pound-LP club Vashti Bunyan gets her moment too from 1966 with the B-side "Love Song" - a pretty ditty that was too lightweight at the time to get noticed. I'm kind of shocked at how good the Bonnie Dobson track is - "Winter's Going" cleverly mixing Sitar and Strings to create a very cool tie-dye hip shaker. Back in the realms of serious money - Anne Briggs' 1971 LP "The Time Has Come" on CBS Records has been escalating in value for years to a point where it now commands a £500 pricetag. But "Sandman's Song" is again a tad underwhelming. Not so the rather brill and strangely poignant cover of The Everly Brothers classic "When Will I Be Loved" by the UK Folk Supergroup 'The Bunch'. Featuring a mishmash of Fairport Convention, Fotheringay and Matthews Southern Comfort at its playing core – out by the mikes The Bunch had the gorgeous vocal-duetting of Sandy Denny and Linda Peters. I recall the Island Records single and album were poo-poo'd at the time by purists - but in hindsight the whole project and this cover in particular have turned out to be lambasted material that absolutely deserves a second go-round. Other winners include Celia Humphries fronting the much-revered Trees on "Murdoch" (the very definition of UK Folk Rock) and an amazingly pretty "Banquet On The Water" by a 15 and 18-year brother and sister team called Sally and Mike Oldfield as The Sallyangie (his playing was utterly extraordinary even then and you can so hear Tubular Bells brewing under the surface).

To sum up - at times "Milk Of The Tree..." is truly wonderful and will definitely get you in touch with the feminine side of your record collection. But at other times and despite all the right credentials being there - the song-selection on each disc just firmly refuses to fly – so for me it’s four stars instead of five.

But having said that there's more than enough here to be seriously impressed and genuinely look forward to Volume 2. Hats off to all involved and big-time praise to all the women and artists who opened the doors all those years ago...

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