Mary McCaslin

Rain: The Lost Album

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It's not well known that McCaslin was very briefly with Capitol Records in the late '60s, in her early twenties. Only one single, 1967's "Rain"/"This All Happened Once Before," was released, but in 1967-1968 she, in fact, did a few sessions, resulting in almost 20 tracks. All of these tracks, including both sides of the single, were finally unearthed on this 1999 CD. While of undeniable historical interest, these really do show McCaslin to still be a fairly unformed artist, even relative to her very obscure (and good) 1969 debut album, Goodnight Everybody, on Barnaby. She's just an average folksinger here, her voice not sounding as assured as it would be subsequently, with a repertoire entirely comprised of cover tunes. That's not necessarily a problem as McCaslin was a gifted interpreter as well as songwriter, but that interpretive gift is not as strongly in evidence as it would be later. In truth this seems to be bear the stamp of producer Nick Venet -- who also produced country-folk-rock artists Linda Ronstadt & the Stone Poneys, Hearts & Flowers, Fred Neil, and Karen Dalton in the same era -- more than it does the imprint of McCaslin herself. The low-key-to-the-point-of-sedate, lightly electrified arrangements will be extremely familiar to those who know the Stone Poneys and Hearts & Flowers records well. It's a good sound, but McCaslin, at this point, was not as original an artist as those acts, and did not have access to material that was as interesting. She does take in an eclectic assortment of songwriters on this collection, including Michael Nesmith, Hoyt Axton, the Bee Gees, Tom Paxton, Bert Jansch, and Leonard Cohen, as well as three Beatles songs, a harbinger of her oft-tapped love of Lennon-McCartney rearrangements. Yet of the songs that aren't well known, few are that memorable (the sad "Windigo" and "Please Don't Go" are exceptions), and some of the covers not only fail to leave a mark, but actually diminish the songs. Tim Buckley's "Aren't You the One" was handled much better by Buckley, for instance, and she changes George Harrison's Beatles composition "I Need You" so radically that she strips it of most of its recognizable melody, though to no good end. Incidentally, Bernie Leadon, Doug Dillard, and Larry Murray are among the country-rock musicians of note who contributed to the sessions at various points.

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