Barbara Mauritz

Music Box

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Barbara Mauritz's 1972 solo album -- recorded shortly after she left the fine, idiosyncratic and overlooked group Lamb -- continued the trend toward normalization that had been in motion ever since Lamb's first, strangest, and best album. While the second and (to a much lesser degree) third Lamb albums had managed to retain enough of the interesting folk, jazz, and poetic elements of the group's debut to make those LPs stand out from most other early-'70s rock records, few of those traits remained by the time of Music Box. There were several significant problems hindering the album, not the least of them being that Mauritz didn't write most of the material. Instead, the program was largely devoted to covers of songwriters like Van Morrison, Dr. John, Chuck Berry, Loudon Wainwright III, Link Wray, and Stephen Stills -- major talents all, but not ones whose songs especially lent themselves to Mauritz's strengths. Just as significantly, the record was crowded with a gaggle of session musicians that shifted from track to track -- a syndrome that led to some of the lesser facets of '70s rock in general, and one that certainly led to the relative anonymity of this album in particular. It ends up being a rather dull, slightly bluesy, typical early-'70s rock album. True, Mauritz's vocals remain very good. But there were a good number of strong rock singers with hues of blues and jazz in the early '70s; there weren't many singer/songwriters who devised material as unusual as Mauritz helped do on the Lamb albums. Only occasionally do you have glimpses of Mauritz's more individual talents here. These unsurprisingly come on a couple of her original songs with a more wistful, mystical, melodic touch and graceful orchestration ("Winter in the Valley" and "Whale"), as well as the title track, where the session band is jettisoned and keyboards are the only backing instruments. And she should have left out-and-out party rock & roll alone, as a clunky cover of Berry's "Around and Around" proves.

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