Monday, May 21, 2012

You Were On My Mind - We Five

You Were On My Mind
We Five
A&M SP 4111

I first encountered this record in my stepmother's record collection.  The folk-rock title tune had an enormous impact on me.  Along with the Byrds' albums "Greatest Hits" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" it made me a huge folk-rock fan.  I became obsessed with the jangly sound of the twelve string electric guitar that was the foundation of folk-rock.  The song (which was composed by Sylvia Fricker) also led me to Ian and Sylvia whose albums remain to this day a treasured part of my record collection.  I played the song over and over until I had it memorized.  With its ringing guitar, hooky bass line, crisp drumming and charming vocal harmonies, I still find it irresistible.  I didn't care for most of the rest of the album though.  I imagine that most people who bought the record on the basis of the single probably felt the same way.  The vast majority of the album isn't folk-rock at all, the band did not even have a drummer (a session drummer is used on a few tracks.)  The album consists largely of easy listening type tunes.  Take away the electric guitar and you have a Sandpipers album.  That is why when I left home, I didn't take this record with me and it probably ended up in a landfill somewhere.  I bought this particular copy many years later, mostly out of nostalgia.  I like it better now then I did when I was a teenager.  Aside from the electric guitar (which actually is only prominent on a handful of tracks) the prime attraction on the album is Beverly Bivens' big voice which calls to mind Judith Durham of the Seekers.  Still there is not much she can do with the group's mundane arrangements of show tunes like "My Favorite Things," "Small World," and "Tonight."  Their version of "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" is truly weird.  For some bizarre reason, it is played in the style of surf-rock which shows how horrible "Porgy and Bess" would be if performed by Jan and Dean.  The group fares a little better with standards like "Somewhere Beyond the Sea" and "Softly As I Leave You" and I especially like their folk-rock style version of "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" which has been one of my favorite songs since I was a little kid.  There is also a quasi-flamenco style take on the sappy Elvis Presley chestnut "Can't Help Falling In Love" that gives the song some drama and tension that I find more appealing than the original's mushiness.  Aside from the title track all the best songs come from John Stewart (of "Daydream Believer" fame) who was the brother of Mike Stewart who was the leader of the group.  "Love Me Not Tomorrow" is an atmospheric tune with a passionate vocal from Bivens.  The two Stewart brothers collaborated on "If I Were Alone" which is my favorite song on the album after the title track.  It features elaborate folk-style harmonies, a propulsive melody and a lively electric guitar line running through it.  The album concludes with John Stewart's "I Can Never Go Home Again" which reminds me of Ian and Sylvia with its chugging acoustic guitars and pleasing vocal interplay between the male singers and Bivens.  It gives the album a strong finish.  Even though I'm fond of this record, I'm a bit hesitant to actually recommend it.  Much of my attraction to it comes from my long history with it and the early influence it held over me.  I do think parts of it are genuinely good and I don't think any of it is truly awful.  If you have a taste for 1960s soft-rock or folk-pop, I imagine you will find stuff to like here and the title tune is essential for folk-rock fans.  Recommended for people who dig the Seekers and Peter, Paul and Mary but wish they didn't sing so many old folk songs.

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