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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! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 24, 2014 at 09:29

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Ruthann Friedman

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The Year in Reissues: The 2013 Gold Bonus Disc Awards

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Gold CDWelcome to The Second Disc’s Fourth Annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards!

Though this is a slow time of year for news, it’s the perfect time to look at the year in review.  As with every year’s awards, our goals are simple: to recognize as many of the year’s most essential reissues and catalogue titles as possible, and to celebrate those labels, producers and artists who make these releases possible in what many might deem an increasingly-challenging retail landscape.  These labels have bucked the trends to prove that there’s still a demand for physical catalogue music.  And from our vantage point, there’s still great strength and health in this corner of the music industry.  By my very rough estimate, The Second Disc covered around 500 releases in 2013 – and we firmly believe that the best is still yet to come.  We dedicate The Gold Bonus Disc Awards to the creators of the music and releases we cover, and to you, the readers.  After all, your interest is ultimately what keeps great music of the past – this site’s raison d’etre – alive and well.

With that in mind, don’t forget to share your own thoughts and comments below. What made your must-have list in 2013?  Please join us in recognizing 2013′s best of the best.

Which releases take home the gold this year? Hit the jump below to find out!

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“Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook” Explores The Solo Side of The Songwriter

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Ruthann Friedman - WindyA look at the intense visage of Ruthann Friedman on the cover photograph of Now Sounds’ Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook reveals those “stormy eyes that flash at the sound of lies,” but a listen to the sounds within shows the artist spreading her “wings to fly above the clouds.”  For here is an entire disc’s worth of never-before-heard pop nuggets, crafted with a delicacy and beauty to match that photo.  Windy, of course, is so named, of course, for The Association’s 1967 No. 1 hit penned by Friedman, which was recognized as one of BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the 20th Century.  Its eighteen tracks were recorded between 1966 and 1973, truly a period during which anything was possible.  They find Friedman supported by such luminaries as Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, Curt Boettcher, Ron Elliott and members of the Los Angeles Wrecking Crew, and reveal a gifted songwriter who was very much more than a “one-hit wonder.”

Chances are, if you know the music of Ruthann Friedman beyond “Windy,” it’s due to her 1969 Reprise album Constant Companion, a fragile psych-folk gem that many have compared to the best of Vashti Bunyan or Judee Sill.  Or perhaps you know Water Records’ 2006 volume of “lost” songs, Hurried Life.  But Now Sounds’ new excavation unearths a wealth of inventive popThough Friedman’s own, stripped-down recording of the seminal “Windy” is reprised (in alternate form) from A Hurried Life, it’s surrounded with seventeen other melodic gems ranging from the sunny to the sad.  These have been drawn from demos and publishing recordings, as well as songs intended for her first, unfinished A&M solo album.

Compilation producer/designer Steve Stanley’s vivid essay explains that a potpourri of influences affected young Ruthann, including the Broadway musicals of Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser and Richard Rodgers, the folk songs of Woody Guthrie and the rock-and-roll of Bill Haley and His Comets.  Indeed, the music on Songbook is stylistically varied.  Friedman possessed a husky, expressive and piercing voice that, at times, recalls Grace Slick; it’s no surprise, then, that she was briefly considered to front Jefferson Airplane following Signe Anderson’s departure.  She modestly reminisces in the liner notes, “They didn’t take me, which was smart.  I mean, Grace Slick, how can you turn that down?”

Keep reading about Ruthann after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 25, 2013 at 13:12

Posted in Compilations, News, Reviews, Ruthann Friedman

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