She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina, Buffy Sainte-Marie's seventh album, is a varied collection of new originals by the singer/songwriter, along with covers of songs by her friends. It's an ambitious work, recorded at five different studios in New York, Los Angeles, and London, and co-produced by Sainte-Marie with Jack Nitzsche, who brings in some elaborate arrangements at times, as well as musicians including sometime-bandmates in Crazy Horse, Neil Young, Danny Whitten, Ralph Molina, and Billy Talbot. They are heard, for instance, in Sainte-Marie's feeling version of fellow Canadian Young's "Helpless," a song he cut previously with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, although it is a personal reminiscence of a Canadian childhood, and thus a song with which Sainte-Marie can identify closely. The album also boasts an excellent Gerry Goffin/Carole King song, "Smack Water Jack," which Sainte-Marie performs alone to her own piano accompaniment. (The song also appears on King's LP Tapestry, released simultaneously with She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina.) Another notable track is a previously unheard and typically poetic and emotional Leonard Cohen song, "Bells," and Sainte-Marie presents her version of a song Cohen, too, has covered, "Song of the French Partisan" (aka "The Partisan"). That is far from the only politically oriented tune on the disc, though. Sainte-Marie also presents "Moratorium," a reflection on troops serving, misguidedly, in her opinion, in Vietnam, which includes an expletive followed by "Bring the brothers home." A similar sentiment informs "Soldier Blue," Sainte-Marie's theme song for the recently released film concerning mistreatment of American Indians, another constant in her work. The album also contains love songs like "Now You've Been Gone for a Long Time," performed with equal effectiveness. She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina finds Sainte-Marie holding onto many of the themes and the folk styles with which she began, but, with the assistance of Nitzsche and others, expanding into mainstream pop and rock successfully.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann