Washington Squares

Fair and Square

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The second album from the Washington Squares starts off with a cover of the Leonard Cohen/Sharon Robinson composition, "Everybody Knows." It is a strong statement by this pioneering folk-rock ensemble, a band that should've charted, a band that other musicians admired. Lauren Agnelli wrote for Creem magazine under the pen name of Trixie A. Balm. Her first major label album was the also-underrated long-player by Nervus Rex. This is a very big change in direction -- imagine Peter, Paul & Mary with a more radical slant. "The Fourth Day of July" is a traditional tune with new words and music by Agnelli, Tom Goodkind, and Bruce Jay Paskow. Drummer Billy Fica isn't featured on the album cover or jacket, but his contribution is noted, and essential. "Charcoal" presents Agnelli as pop chanteuse; it is the Washington Squares, but veers away from the music embraced in their cover of Hamilton Camp's "The Pride of Man." Agnelli's chameleonic performance is what makes the band very special, her voice changing the texture of "The Pride of Man," which evolves into some kind of Sunday afternoon prayer and song chorus for a folk mass. Paskow's "Neal Cassady," with the mournful backing vocals by the band, reads like early Jefferson Airplane with Signe Anderson if Arlo Guthrie had produced them. "La Roue de Fortune" (by Agnelli) shows strength and maturity. Buffy Sainte-Marie would be proud. The guys chime in with really impressive vocal work, and that is the key to the Washington Squares. They are every bit as polished as Peter, Paul & Mary, but in covering Hoyt Axton's "Greenback Dollar" they probably confused the heck out of radio. Not quite pop, not quite country, and then there's Tom Goodkind's "Join Together," which is campfire funk, if there is such a thing. A hootenanny for the '80s. The traditional "My True Love and I," as rearranged by Agnelli, Paskow, and Goodkind, is a beautiful period piece. When Dar Williams tours and can put 3,600 people into a venue on her own without a hit single, it amazes that this beautiful music did not find a huge audience. It's also a pity that a radio station would have to show courage to air something this retro/progressive. This is the kind of sound that fits nicely next to the grunge of modern rock, and gives the listener a breather. It is, after all, in the same spirit -- just a different volume. Paskow's "Other Side of Sin" has a great beat and proves that point. "All Over the World" is about the hardest rocking, actually reminiscent of Nervus Rex's near-hit "Don't Look." Fair and Square is unique and listenable music from a very talented bunch.

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