Penny Lang

Gather Honey

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For anyone who was an adolescent during the '60s, the cover photo of an earnest-looking young woman in a poncho strumming an acoustic guitar may bring a warm sense of nostalgia. Those who were born during that decade tend, when faced with such an image, to roll their eyes. But those who approach this album expecting empty earnestness and hippie-dippy platitudinizing will be pleasantly surprised. There are no misguided attempts to cure the world's ills through songs lifted from someone else's misunderstood folk culture; Penny Lang takes contemporary urban folk and blues songs and delivers them in a voice both powerful and unaffected. Listening to this chronological document, which opens with her earliest recording from 1963 and ends with recordings made in the late '70s, you hear her voice grow in strength and distinctiveness, but she never lets her own stylistic choices get in the way of the songs themselves. (In that sense, she has more in common with Ella Fitzgerald than with, say, Buffy Sainte-Marie, even though her voice is closer in quality to the latter than the former.) Highlights here include that first recording, a hair-raising rendition of "In the Pines," and a dated but charming cover of Paul Lauzon's "Start Again." Recommended.

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