Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reflections in a Crystal Wind - Mimi and Richard Fariña

Reflections in A Crystal Wind
Mimi and Richard Fariña
Vanguard  VSD 79204

I recently finished reading Richard Fariña's semi-autobiographical novel about college life, "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me."  I'm probably too old now to fully appreciate the novel, but I'm sure I would have been crazy about it back in my 20s.   Fariña seems to have been influenced by Kesey and Kerouac who were among my favorite writers back then.  Now I find the protagonist's narcissism and misogyny annoying, but the novel is well-written and imaginative.  It prompted me to pull out the two albums he did with his wife prior to his death in 1966.  Their first one, "Celebrations For a Grey Day," is my favorite of the two, but this one is not far behind.  They are both full of stimulating and entertaining music.  This one has more folk-rock than its predecessor with four tracks featuring an electric guitar, keyboards and a rhythm section.  "Hard-Loving Loser" is my favorite of the four.  It is a rollicking song reminiscent of Dylan's folk-rock songs on "Bringing It All Back Home" with an instrumental rave-up at the end.  The song's protagonist resembles the hero of Fariña's novel.  "Sell-Out Agitation Waltz" and "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream" use the propulsive force of rock and roll to add urgency to the torrent of politically charged imagery Fariña unleashes in the songs.  Both songs are duets that show that Richard and Mimi could do folk-rock vocals more effectively than most of their folkie peers.  "Mainline Prosperity Blues" is an ode to dope-induced idleness and dropping out that shows that the blues wasn't Richard's forte as a vocalist.  I'm a rock guy, but my favorite songs on the album are the folk songs.  I think the best one is the traditional sounding "Bold Marauder" which is a dark depiction of violent menace sung as a duet by Richard and Mimi.  "Reflections in a Crystal Wind" is also a duet but it is the polar opposite of "Bold Marauder."  It is a highly poetic examination of love and separation with a cheerful melody.  "Raven Girl" is another traditional sounding song sung as a duet.  The sinister yet romantic imagery in this gothic song is very impressive, I think it is one of their best songs.  Mimi has a lovely lead vocal on "A Swallow Song" which is dedicated to her sister Joan Baez.  The courtly sounding music of this song appears to have been lifted from an old Ladino song called "Los Bilbilicos" which Fariña's first wife Carolyn Hester recorded on her 1962 album, "Carolyn Hester" although Fariña wrote new lyrics for the song.  The album concludes with the gentle "Children of Darkness" which is about finding comfort in love and companionship when violence and confusion rages around the world - which sums up the 1960s pretty well I think.  There are also four instrumentals on the album, my favorite of which is "Dopico" which is a fusion of Middle Eastern and Caribbean influences which is very dynamic and energized.  "Allen's Interlude" also has a Middle Eastern sound. It was named for the psychedelic artist Allen Atwell.  "Miles" was named for Miles Davis for reasons that escape me since it sounds more like carnival music than jazz.  "Chrysanthemum" features some lovely exchanges between Mimi on guitar and Richard on dulcimer.  I'm a big fan of the Fariñas and I think their two albums are among the best records of their era.  They brought the integrity, intelligence and personal quality of 1960s folk music to the accessibility and energy of rock with great artistic success.  I think their two albums need to be included with the work of Dylan and the Byrds as being among the most significant folk-rock achievements.  Listening to these wonderful records I can't help but wonder what the Fariñas might have gone on to accomplish had Richard not taken that fatal motorcycle ride that silenced one of the great original voices in popular music.  Recommended to people seeking intelligence in pop music.

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