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By 1974, Melanie had shed the worst of her vocal excesses (along with half her audience, unfortunately). Madrugada explored a few new musical ideas. "The Actress" found Melanie striding boldly into high-flown, fretful autobiography with some success. Her attempt at the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," a frantic orchestral arrangement, is richer for some deft chord progressions not found on the original. As a performer, she was displaying more skill and restraint than ever before. As a songwriter, there were signs that her gifts were on the wane; Madrugada was half covers (including Randy Newman and Goffin & King), and some of the originals, particularly the wispy "Pine and Feather," seemed mere exercises in quaintness. But everything was immaculately produced (by husband Peter Schekeryk) -- the glossy, professional mix of rock with a large string section was clearly safe territory for Melanie. And nothing on Madrugada is anything less than pleasant.

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