Chris Harwood

Nice to Meet Miss Christine

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Nowadays Chris Harwood is being touted as Britain's great lost female folksinger. That's understandable -- her sole record, Nice to Meet Miss Christine, launched the tiny indie Birth label in 1970. The album disappeared soon after, probably because most listeners were unable to get beyond the first track, the exceedingly self-righteous, anti-racist "Mama," whose justified anger doesn't exonerate the song's lack of melody. Or maybe it was due to the fact that Nice wasn't really a folk album at all, as the guest musician roster makes clear. Guitarist Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes, pianist/organist Tommy Eyre would soon be joining Rainbow, brass and woodwind player Ian McDonald hailed from King Crimson, drummer Pete York came from the Spencer Davis Group, and guitarist Mike Maran would eventually become Britain's top musical arranger. Not a folkie in sight, but one hell of a lineup, expanding the sound of what one assumes was Harwood's own group -- guitarist Dave Lambert, bassist Roger Sutton, and drummer J. Kay Boots. Thus the songs sound phenomenal (even if the transfer to CD creates a hollowness at the center), the musicianship is flawless, and the set is as eclectic as one would imagine with these players on board. Jazzy fusion, jammy prog rock, pomp rock, revved-up R&B, and combinations of all of the above swirl across the set. The musicians are so busy showboating that melodies are mostly ignored, most spectacularly on the covers of Dave Mason's "Crying to Be Heard" and Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Wooden Ships," a situation Harwood does little to resolve. She's best showcased on the sultry blues of "Flies Like a Bird," but elsewhere too often slides into waspishness or worse -- harangues. A musical Margaret Thatcher is no good thing, but that's how Harwood comes across, all hectoring tones and wagging finger, even on the love songs. It's no surprise, then, that the iron chanteuse never made another record, but if you can ignore her, the backing is sensational.

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