Ruthann Friedman

A Hurried Life

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When Water Records -- that venerable San Francisco label that is as unpredictable as it is funky -- reissued Ruthann Friedman's only album, 1968's Constant Companion in March of 2006, it was reasonable to assume that was that. Wrong. Instead, they went about repeating a process they had done so successfully with Patty Waters in 2004 on You Thrill Me: A Musical Odyssey 1962-1979 where they rounded up everything from beer commercials to rare demos, home tapes and club recordings, and released a stunning little compendium of a very enigmatic artist, and in 2005 they issued Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe, a live recording from a club in San Francisco in 2002 on their DBK Works imprint. Hurried Life is just what it says it s, a collection of home and studio recordings done between 1965 and 1971. They are "lost" because nothing was ever done with them. Pat Thomas and Nathaniel Russell have assembled a true series of lost gems in these 15 cuts. They are raw, utterly unpolished songs written by the woman who wrote "Windy" for the Association. On first hearing, and rightly so, these are songs that seem to come from a time and place far away. They are full of a seemingly naïve innocence: check the "Sky Is Moving South," and "That's All Right," for starters. But when one considers that the Vietnam War was entering full swing when the first of these songs were recorded, and was still raging when the last of them was, perhaps it's not so distant at all. As the Iraq war and cultural wars tear the fabric of society apart, one can find and hear in these simple songs of love, optimism, hope, change, disillusionment, and betrayal, a mirror, a "Looking Glass" as it were, reflecting the present towards the past and the culture wars that began in the '60s.

Certainly some of these tunes are acid-drenched and full of hippie visions, but there's also a tune about the paranoia and danger of methamphetamine abuse ("Method Madness") here (from her personal experience, according to her annotated notes that accompany each cut). The songs about love both realized and unrequited (check "To Treat a Friend") are certainly relevant to any day and age. What all this proves musically is that Constant Companion was no fluke. Her voice is real here, if less polished in places, and steady for the most part, but not undisciplined, and the songs themselves are full of wonderful turns of phrase, rooted as they are in various American styles (check both the words and the blues picking in "Between the Lines"). In addition to Friedman's songs, there is one by Tandyn Almer (who wrote another big hit for the Association called "Along Comes Mary") called "Little Girl Lost and Found"; it's a wild, multi-tracked and tape-sped tune where she is accompanied in places by Tom Shipley of Brewer & Shipley. It's curious, but it doesn't match the rest of the material here. And, oh yes, "Windy" is here, her demo of the song that she gave to her friends and former housemates the Association. Hurried Life is not an acquired taste. If you liked Friedman's Constant Companion, and if you didn't get the wax out of your ears, this will most certainly appeal to you. If you have no idea who she is but dig the CD cover photo, (and what's not to like? the period photos are all informal and funky), then suffice to say the music sounds similar. Underlying it all, however, is the seriously under-utilized talent of a gifted pop songwriter who could wrangle words and melody alike with a ferocity that is hidden by the simple guise of the recorded medium. Perhaps Waters can coax Friedman to either dig into the trick bag for more material, or maybe even coax her into recording something new? One can almost bet that either Devendra Banhart or Noah Georgeson would volunteer to help. Recommended without reservation, Hurried Life is a sensual, mischievous, and poetic delight.

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