Billy Hallquist


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Minnesotan Billy Hallquist's band Thundertree had released one album in the early ‘70s on the Roulette label before splitting up. In the aftermath of that breakup, Hallquist took a day job to finance the sessions for his first solo album, Persephone. While the CD reissue's credits list the original release date as 1972, Hallquist's own liner notes mention that recording continued into 1973. In either case, the album was given a limited, private-press release adorned with a trippy, rather demonic, black-and-white illustration that seems to be related to the title track. Persephone is mostly a sparsely arranged affair, based largely around Hallquist's strong, clear voice and acoustic guitar strumming. The few additional elements are perfectly incorporated for maximum effect, be it some Crosby, Stills & Nash-like harmony or a rather Fairport Convention-sounding rhythm section. Incidentally, the CSN influence also extends to an acoustic guitar excursion at the end of "Smiling Lady," where Hallquist quotes both "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and "Love the One You're With." Lyrically, Hallquist alternates between straightforward, romantic themes ("Help You Now," "You and I") and richly poetic, Dylan-on-a-bummer-trip imagery ("Desert Rats," "Buddah's Rosary"), and he proves equally adept at both approaches. The album closes on something of an epic note with the title track, an eight-and-a-half-minute tale of a soul trapped in a hellish nightmare. For all the anguish contained in the vivid, evocative lyrics, though, Hallquist's voice retains an eerie calm that only adds to the unsettling impact. The climax comes with a slowly building wall of choral vocals, for what Hallquist describes as his attempt to merge Donovan's "Atlantis" and the Beatles' "Hey Jude." Despite its humble origins and generally sparse sonic canvas, Persephone -- which was made at the same Minnesota studio where Dylan completed Blood on the Tracks -- sounds unfailingly professional. If it had been given major distribution at the time of its release, it might have become a folk-rock classic instead of a record-collector rarity, but at least the reissue gives the world at large a chance to find out what they've been missing all this time.

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