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Look Up To The Sun: Ruthann Friedman Goes Beyond “Windy” On Now Sounds’ “Complete Constant Companion”

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Ruthann Friedman - Constant CompanionRoughly one year ago, Now Sounds released Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook. Its colorful cover was adorned with a striking photograph of the artist, intense and beautiful, in a verdant setting. The label has now continued the Ruthann Friedman story with The Complete Constant Companion Sessions, and its cover is as to Windy’s as night is to day. Its stark black-and-white line art by Peter Kaukonen appears to depict an angel on a landscape of rolling hills, conjuring cryptic text and an arrangement of branches. The drawing is both spare and intricate, mysterious and inviting. It’s an apropos introduction to the intimate world of Constant Companion. The lush Wrecking Crew-aided pop arrangements as heard on Windy have ceded to delicate voice-and-guitar, folk-style performances, though the individuality of Friedman’s exquisite original compositions is – put simply – the one constant.

Ruthann Friedman is best known, of course, for penning The Association’s 1967 chart-topper “Windy” which was ranked among BMI’s Top 100 songs of the twentieth century. Now Sounds’ 2013 anthology premiered tracks salvaged from an aborted LP intended for A&M Records produced by Tommy LiPuma (George Benson, Diana Krall), as well as sessions with Curt Boettcher (The Association, Sagittarius) and others. It featured guests including Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks and The Beau Brummels’ Ron Elliot on tracks recorded between 1966 and 1973. The centerpiece of this new collection is the 1969 Reprise LP Constant Companion; with the A&M project shelved, it was Friedman’s debut and her only studio release until 2013. To the album’s original twelve tracks, Now Sounds has added twelve more, most from its sessions and all previously unissued.

“Come all you likely people and hear these sounds I wail,” implores the singer as “Piper’s Call” begins. The de facto first track of Constant Companion, following the short, jazzy a cappella “Topsy Turvy Moon,” the beguiling, acoustic psych-folk ballad (co-written with Steve Mann) sets the fragile tone of the album. Friedman’s lyrics are more than occasionally impressionistic, employing timeless, often pastoral images in their storytelling. With Friedman accompanying herself on guitar, there’s nothing to detract from her piercing, expressive vocals on these moody, low-key reflections as produced in understated fashion by Joe Wissert (The Turtles, Boz Scaggs).

Many tracks here feel deeply personal or drawn directly from the artist’s experience, such as the contemplative “Looking Back Over Your Shoulder.” Friedman shares in her candid track-by-track liner notes that “Ringing Bells” (“…and blinking lights/In and after dawns of hard-lived nights”) was inspired by an acid trip, and indeed, it’s an eloquent evocation of the experience: “Here, I’ve found a never place/With shining souls on every face/Around the corner of a sigh/Between the twinkle of an eye.” A vivid snapshot of a particular era, she concludes, “High in constant never time, I dig the workings of my mind.” Similarly, the lovely and hopeful “Peaceable Kingdom” is very much of its time, dreaming of a better place within flight’s reach. “Danny,” written for Friedman’s nephew, is tender and one of the loveliest moments on Constant Companion. Other songs are far darker and more somber, like the hauntingly offbeat “Fairy Prince Rainbow Man,” and the sparse, poetic chronicle of the end of relationship, “Too Late to Be Mourning.”

Friedman, perhaps her own harshest critic, dismisses “People” as “moaning, whining, wimpy bullshit.” But there’s something touching and indeed, universal, hearing her reach a painful moment of self-discovery: “I have spent so many years trying to find myself/Now that I know where I am, I find that I am by myself.” The surrounding lyrics are a bit florid, but her awareness and ability to relate emotional truths can’t be denied. The up-tempo “No Time” is pointedly criticized by its songwriter as “another bullshit song,” and it is of a piece with “People.” Though Friedman is being hard on herself, both songs are directed at those who didn’t understand her. In “People,” she chastises, “People, you know you are just the same as me/The only difference is the lie we see…” and in the latter, it’s “Damn the chaos and down with the fools/And don’t bug me with all your rules.” The artist has certainly matured, but her sentiments still likely ring true for those of a certain age today, in the process of their own soul-searching.

A bluesy melody enhances “Morning Becomes You,” which would have made a great candidate for a harmony-pop rendition by the likes of The Association. (So many of the songs here are so intimate and so personal that it’s hard to imagine other artists tackling them.) The original album’s closing track, “Look Up to the Sun,” is also one of its most sensual. As on “Windy,” Friedman skillfully blends both the celestial and the earthbound into the fabric of her music.

Constant Companion has been expanded with numerous bonus tracks!  Read about them and more after the jump!

Eight of the twelve bonus tracks hail from the same June 1969 sessions that yielded Constant Companion. Among these are raw, acoustic demo versions of “Windy” and “When You’re Near.” The latter song was introduced on disc on Now Sounds’ Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook, and was perhaps its most remarkable find. It shimmered in its gorgeous A&M rendition with wistful brass accenting the gentle melody. It’s equally heartfelt in this acoustic version, and purely unbelievable that this beautiful and accessible composition – one of Friedman’s finest and most touching – was consigned to the vault not once, but twice! “The Sky is Moving South” was also included in a different recording on Windy. Co-written with Friedman’s onetime companion Peter Kaukonen, it’s less overtly jazz-influenced here. All of these previously unissued outtakes would have fit snugly on the original LP, especially “Ginger,” with its whimsical imagery.

Another handful of bonus tracks date to 1970 in the aftermath of Constant Companion’s release. The sound of the pretty, optimistic and socially conscious “Off to See the World” favorably compares to Joni Mitchell’s work of this period as does the rhythmic “Traveling Around,” penned with Kaukonen. One single release, issued by Reprise in August 1970 under the name of “Ruthann,” liberated Friedman from the acoustic setting. “Carry On Through (Glittering Dancer)” was produced and arranged by Kirby Johnson, but bears the imprint of its Executive Producer, a pal of both Johnson’s and Friedman’s – Van Dyke Parks. The dense, Eastern-influenced production, featuring contributions from Ry Cooder and Clarence White and Gene Parsons of The Byrds, sounds like nothing else here and is a mighty taste of what might have been. “Carry On Through” was backed with “People” from Constant Companion, but Friedman, Johnson and co. also recorded one additional track that makes its debut here. That song, the comparatively stripped-down “Have a Good Time,” is driven by rocking piano, and shows yet another side of Friedman to savor.

The Complete Constant Companion Sessions is the definitive presentation of this album, previously issued on CD with one bonus track (“Carry On Through (Glittering Dancer)”) by the Water label in 2006. Producer/designer Steve Stanley has lavishly packaged and annotated this set which has been superbly remastered by Alan Brownstein. Constant Companion is the flipside of Windy; while that sparkling collection was clearly the work of the “Windy” songwriter who had perfected the three-minute pop song and was therefore free to challenge its conventions, this is more introspective, more free-form and more ethereal. Graceful, atmospheric and ultimately transporting, Constant Companion might very well live up to its title for you.

Ruthann Friedman, The Complete Constant Companion Sessions (Now Sounds CRNOW49, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Topsy Turvy Moon
  2. Piper’s Call
  3. Fairy Prince Rainbow Man
  4. Too Late to Be Mourning
  5. Ringing Bells
  6. Looking Back Over Your Shoulder
  7. People
  8. Morning Becomes You
  9. Peaceable Kingdom
  10. No Time
  11. Danny
  12. Look Up to the Sun
  13. Carry On Through (Glittering Dancer) (Reprise single 0941, 1970)
  14. Off to See the World
  15. When You’re Near (Demo)
  16. Traveling Around
  17. Chocolate Sea
  18. Ginger
  19. Song for My Brother
  20. I Understand
  21. World’s End
  22. The Sky is Moving South
  23. Have a Good Time
  24. Windy (Acoustic Demo)

Tracks 1-12 from Constant Companion, Reprise LP RS 6363, 1969

All other tracks previously unreleased except Track 13 as indicated above

Written by Joe Marchese

July 24, 2014 at 09:29

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Ruthann Friedman

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