Caroline Peyton

Mock Up

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Joni Mitchell's influence on other female singer/songwriters of the late 1960s and early '70s was so pervasive that one almost dreads bringing up comparisons to her in yet another review of an obscure record of the period for fear of falling into cliché. The fact remains, however, that it's unavoidable when describing Caroline Peyton's 1971 debut LP. Some of the traits of Mitchell's early work are also found here: the winding, swooping vocals that sometimes build up to a trill, the jazzy phrasing, and the rather solemn tone of many of the lyrics. There are differences, too, though not ones that will excite many listeners into replacing Mitchell with Peyton in their home rotation. The plainness of the production and basic arrangements are threadbare when stacked up against even Mitchell's earliest albums, though they likewise emphasize vocals, acoustic guitar, and piano. The material -- mostly by producer Mark Bingham -- lacks the depth and distinction of Mitchell or the better singer/songwriters. In addition, several tracks unpredictably leap into avant-garde territory, with most un-Mitchell-like operatic screeching and free-form structures incorporating jazz and art song. (Even the liner notes to the CD reissue describe her vocals on "Bill Monroe" as "Peyton's best impression of a donkey in ill health.") The presence of a male vocalist singing along with Peyton on a couple of slightly bluesy pieces also makes this stand out -- Mitchell, after all, never sang with a guy on her early records -- as does, on "Gone for a Day," the lyric "creamed in my jeans," which no one sang in the early '70s if they hoped for radio play. Though the odder tracks are more original, they're also less pleasing to ear than the more conventional and derivative ones. That puts Mock Up in the odd position of a record that might be both too strange and too imitative for fans of singer/songwriters like Mitchell, and not unusual enough overall to gain a strong cult following. [The 2008 CD reissue added extensive historical lines; omitted a track, "Lor el iii," on which the vocal was taken by Mark Bingham (who wrote most of the songs); added a 1972 live recording, "Breathe," which strikes a reasonably accessible midpoint between folk and avant-jazz; and adds three songs from her 1973 album In the Eye that, while similar to her debut, are somewhat less Mitchell-indebted and jazzier, the highlight "White Teeth" adding some Indian flavor. It also has a color video, in reasonable though slightly lo-fi, of Peyton performing two songs not on the CD live on acoustic guitar in 1972 at the Hummingbird Cafe in Bloomington, Indiana.

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