Kathy McCord

New Jersey to Woodstock

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As a teenager, Kathy McCord, the sister of Billy Vera, made a 1970 self-titled singer/songwriter LP that's gotten some attention among collectors, though it was barely known at the time of its release. This two-CD collection features that album on disc one, with the addition of a couple non-LP bonus tracks from a 1968 single, while disc two is entirely comprised of unreleased recordings spanning 1972-1979. While it's described as "folk-psych" on the back cover blurb, there isn't much that's psychedelic about the 1970 album; it might have attracted notice from folk-psych collectors, however, due to a slightly idiosyncratic ambience informed by the tone of the psychedelic times. It's more promising than it is enduring, McCord singing with a lower-than-average voice and a good measure of reserved containment, at times suggesting -- as absurd as some dedicated cultists might find the comparison -- traces of a hipper Karen Carpenter. Her compositions are rather even-tempered, subdued reflections with hints of folk, jazz, Tin Pan Alley (on "Baby James" and "Velvet Smile"), and hippie mysticism. They're given some touches of flute, strings, and (at least on "Rainbow Ride") furious rock guitar to embellish the guitar, piano, and singer/songwriter base of the arrangements. The songs aren't melodically arresting or lyrically pointed enough to mark this as a standout, even among obscure early-'70s singer/songwriter albums. Most of them are pleasantly slightly moody pieces, the only cover being a low-key version of the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home," here retitled "I'm Leaving Home."

In the bonus material, the 1968 single holds some interest, as the two songs were written or co-written by noted composer Chip Taylor. Of these, "I'll Give My Heart to You" is a fair pop ballad, while "I'll Never Be Alone Again" (written by Taylor and Al Gorgoni) is the most psychedelic track on the compilation, not so much in its yearning romantic tune as the odd production, which almost makes the backing sound as if it were recorded from a distance in a deserted castle. It's hard to judge the progression of her work on the 1970s material featured on disc two, as none of the tracks are dated to specific years within their 1972-1979 range. But these generally find her moving to a more mainstream and R&B-influenced singer/songwriter sound (not that she was too far from that mainstream to begin with). The songs and production lose some of the aura that might make her attractive to folk-psych fans, but her singing does improve and become more energetic and soulful, especially on "I Wanna Know Why" and "Shine On," where she really wails. The reissue includes detailed liner notes by both McCord and Vera that shed light on the history of a performer whose history has been mysterious to the collectors who tracked down her 1970 album.

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