Various Artists

Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies from the Canyon

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Joni Mitchell may not have been the biggest-selling singer/songwriter star of the early '70s, but her influence, particularly on women performers, can't be denied. As the title of this compilation indicates, the artists on this collection of mega-rare cuts by female singer/songwriters of the era are often in a Joni Mitchell mood. Confessional and narrative lyrics, predominant folky acoustic guitars, warm rolling piano, wide and sometimes swooping vocal ranges -- all of those characteristics are here to some degree, even if only a few of the 14 tracks (especially Caroline Peyton's "Engram," Judy Kelly's "Window," and Barbara Sipple's "Song for Life") make the inspiration inescapably blatant. Also, to be frank, all of this has far less of an edge (and musical sophistication) than Mitchell's early work, and some of it treads close to the bland side, sometimes with awkwardly earnest lyrical homilies. Still, as an anthology of pleasant woman-sung mild folk-rock from the period with a slight aura of haunting mystery, this is pretty respectable. There's little spaciness on the order of cult artists like Linda Perhacs -- Collie Ryan's reverb-swathed "Cricket" comes about the closest -- though a few of the other tracks are a bit strange, like Shira Small's funk-jazz-inflected "Eternal Life," which boasts wildly optimistic cosmic lyrics. Another slight oddity is "Wildman" by Ginny Reilly, whose vocal is something like a combination of Mitchell's phrasing and Buffy Sainte-Marie's vibrato. All of these tracks are taken from scarce private pressings save Ellen Warshaw's closing cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sister Morphine," which is by far the hardest-rocking cut on the CD, and one of the best.

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