While Holly Near's commitment to women's music and women's issues has been unwavering, she has never been a women's music artist entirely, or even primarily. Rather, she comes out of a tradition dating back to Woody Guthrie and Aunt Molly Jackson -- songwriter/performers concerned with a broad range of left-leaning political causes who are usually identified as folksingers. It was not until her 1978 album Imagine My Surprise!, on which she came out as a lesbian, that Near formally embraced women's music, and even then, after the first blush of enthusiasm for the movement, she went back to addressing a variety of issues (and did not remain a lesbian exclusively, either). You might say that Near's relationship to women's music has been like Eric Clapton's to the blues: each artist is identified with the genre and talks it up endlessly, but neither plays it all -- or even most of -- the time. Nevertheless, Holly Near has written and sung a lot of women's music over the years, including some of the best songs in the field. Simply Love: The Women's Music Collection is a two-CD, 28-track compilation covering her albums since 1976, including half a dozen newly recorded performances. Not surprisingly, seven tracks from Imagine My Surprise! are included, with no more than three songs from any other album. In her women-oriented songs, Near is equally concerned with political issues and with personal statements; effective as her political songs are, the songs that concern relationships between women are even more striking and complex. With its chronological sequencing, the album also serves as a selective history of Near's career, tracing her flirtations with various musical styles (folk, contemporary pop/rock, and even show music and jazz-rock), and her evolution from a true singer/songwriter to a singer who, in recent years, has not been much heard from as a songwriter. That disappearance as a writer contributes to the album's valedictory tone; there is little here to overcome the general impression that women's music enjoyed its golden age in the 1970s. But even if that is the case, Near makes the case for herself as an elder stateswoman of the genre on Simply Love by singing some of its best songs.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2