Candles in the Rain

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1970s Candles in the Rain was Melanie Safka's third album, but while her first two LPs found her trying to make a coherent whole out of her grab bag of influences and ideas, this was where she seemed to truly hit the mark for the first time. "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" was that rarity, a hit single that truly presented an eclectic artist in her best light -- the Woodstock rock festival that inspired the tune was just the sort of event that would appeal to Melanie's hippie-styled idealism, and with the power of the Edwin Hawkins Singers backing her, she had a level of musical strength on hand that would prevent her from sounding histrionic. While "Lay Down" was easily the most effective track on Candles in the Rain, the rest of the album found Melanie sounding more confident and expressive than ever before -- there's a emotional gravity to "Citiest People" and "Leftover Wine" that's compelling even when she pushes a little to hard for pathos, and "What Have They Done to My Song Ma?" was the first of her many musical broadsides against the music business, and its wit doesn't blunt its wounded passion. And while Melanie is generally thought of as a singer/songwriter, she was always an imaginative interpreter of the songs of others, and her versions of "Ruby Tuesday" and "Carolina on My Mind" exist on an entirely separate plane from the originals. Finally, the production and arrangements by Peter Schekeryk create fine backdrops for Melanie, punctuating her performances and complementing her emotional peaks and valleys without getting in the way (and the accompanists deliver uniformly superb work). If Candles in the Rain was the album that broke Melanie to a larger audience, it did so not just because it featured her biggest hit single to date, but because it matched material and interpretation with greater skill than she had in the past, and it ranks with her finest work.

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