on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2019 6 Aug

My accidental hippie nostalgia rediscovery

von: Brian Whistler Filed under: Blog | TB | 9 Comments


Laura Allan was one of those Marin County folksingers who didn’t become a household word. She put out 4 albums in her short career (Allan passed away in 2008.) Those first couple, which were released on small labels, were really good. Then she got a record deal with Elektra. They didn’t seem to know what to do with her and came out with an album („Laura Allan“) which was way overproduced and far too slick for Laura’s delicate touch, sounding like a hybrid of Joni and Laura Nyro. After that, I never had the heart to listen to the later releases, fearing more of the same.

I remember an album of Joni Mitchell-like tunes played on mountain dulcimer (or I think I do), and I remember this ambient New Age album, Reflections. Look at the cover – it says it all, a fresh faced hippie goddess who happens to play a special zither redesigned to play like a Celtic harp. And Paul Horn on flute with tons of delay. And then there’s Laura’s angelic, lilting vocals. What’s not to like? Yes, it‘s absolutely lightweight, a mood album from a bygone era – and I love it. But then, it’s a nostalgia thing for me – your mileage may vary. Yet at the same time this one seems to transcend its time and in a strange way, sounds almost contemporary.

There are only four tunes, though rather lengthy – one is around 10 minutes long. It’s so 1970s Marin you can almost smell the sweet grassy hills – one tune is even named Nicasio, after a small rural town in West Marin. Laura’s lovely unaffected voice weaves in and out of the mix, occasionally overdubbed, but mostly just that pure soprano. Occasionally there is a refrain with words, but mostly it’s just wordless vocalizing. Her melodies are purely intuitive, lovely, delicate little phrases that seem to appear and disappear on the wind. Listen to just 30 seconds and you can hear why she was friends with David Crosby. This is inspired music of the moment, and I doubt there was much in the way of preparation – a few key melodic phrases perhaps and away we go.

It was never released on CD but old copies can be found on vinyl, and I’m told it’s available for download. It fulfills a certain ache for a more innocent and simpler time. It’s worth tracking down, even if you just want to stream it. Pretty stuff for a quiet morning, or perhaps a rainy Sunday afternoon. A postcard from another age, another time, another world.

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  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    I‘m reading this in a cafe, early morning. The music in the background is the trivial stuff, mainstream lalala music. Better than classical music in the morning, that‘s toxic for me with its pretentious message: „this is for smart people who love classical music while drinking coffee and having tasteful conversations.“

    I cannot say how much I‘d love to hear this music now and here – maybe it‘s not my music, but with that touch of another era and place, and its newness for my ears, and with the stories you told, this would be really affecting, is that the word, affecting (?) – it would definitely be charming!

    In a few days from now, i will see Remember My Name on ARTE, the doc about the life and times of Mr. Crosby.

  2. MHQ:

    Remembering Laura Allan – a collection of personal notes after her death in 2008:

  3. Lajla Nizinski:

    Brian, I don‘ t know her, and better to be quiet … (Wittgenstein).

    Are you still listening to KPFK, to the show ‚Folk scene‘ from Roz Larman?

    Recently I discovered a young lady from Switzerland: Stefanie Heinzmann, listen to her song „Mother’s heart“. Stunning.

  4. Brian Whistler:

    I read those personal notes as well – heartbreaking. The reason I accidentally rediscovered Reflections was someone on a FB Joni page had posted a song found on a cassette that Laura had wrtten. She had sung it with just dulcimer accompaniment.

    It sounded so much like Jon’s Blue period, there was some discussion whether or not it was Joni. I knew it was Laura Allan because as I mentioned, somewhere in my travels I had heard her play solo accompanied by her dulcimer (she built and invented instruments too).

    As for KPFK – it has been a while since I’ve tuned into Pacifica radio stations. They became less music oriented over the years with much more talk than music – those 3 hour music shows became two hours, then one, many were axed completely and many of my favorite programmers left.

    I will look for this singer you mentioned. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. Michael Engelbrecht:

    I like the record, too.

    The word „ethereal“ has been invented for it.

    I saw her face, listened, sometimes focussed, sometimes the sounds were just there – and felt connected in mysterious ways.

  6. Brian Whistler:

    Definitely ethereal. And one of the first of its kind. You know speaking of Remember my name, Laura Allan in listed on the credited for playing the zither on the album, If I could Only Remember my Name, one worth checking out on the recent multichannel format. Trippy stuff.

  7. Michael Engelbrecht:

    ARTE , 9. August , 23.05 Uhr



    Die sehr persönliche Dokumentation zeigt das bewegte Leben und die einzigartige Karriere der Musikikone David Crosby. Der Singer-Songwriter blickt auf eine musikalische Laufbahn von über fünf Jahrzehnten zurück. Er ist eine anerkannte musikalische Persönlichkeit und sah nach der Auflösung von Crosby, Stills and Nash – dem Höhepunkt seines musikalischen Schaffens – einer ungewissen Zukunft entgegen. Mit gesundheitlichen Problemen und auch persönlichen Hindernissen kämpfend, beschloss Crosby im Alter von 77 Jahren einen neuen Weg zu gehen. Er suchte sich jüngere Musiker und nahm neue Alben auf, die von Kritikern hochgelobt wurden. Crosby macht sich auf den Weg in eine Welt, die sich von der Generation der 60er Jahre, aus der er stammt, deutlich unterscheidet.

    Mit unerschütterlicher Ehrlichkeit, offener Selbstprüfung, ehrlichem Bedauern, mit Furcht, Überschwang und einem aufrichtigen Glauben an die Familie und die transformative Kraft der Musik steht Crosby seine oft herausfordernde Reise mit Humor und Beharrlichkeit durch. Das sehr intime Porträt entdeckt David Crosby als einen Mann, der immer noch gegen jede Windmühle kämpft und sich alles andere als einen angenehmen Ruhestand gönnt. Eine inspirierende Geschichte voller Musik für treue und für viele neue Fans.


    The precise moment in 1968 when David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills discovered how well their voices blended is lost in the distant heat haze of Californian hippy rock. Some say it happened at Joni Mitchell’s house in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles. Others claim it was at another Canyon gathering, the kind of occasion when marijuana smoke and mellow guitar jams floated out over views of the city — joined on this occasion by three male voices in perfect unison.

    Each of the trio was already well known. Crosby had been turfed out of The Byrds; Stills was previously in Buffalo Springfield; and Nash was a member of British band The Hollies. They formed a group named after themselves, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and released a hit album in 1969. Later that year CSN became CSNY with the addition of Stills’s former guitar foil from Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young. “I knew this was going to be a monster and it would make scads of money,” Stills said of the Canadian’s arrival. He was right on both counts.

    The four-headed monster of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was a new phenomenon in rock music: the supergroup, an alliance of established names from different bands. Each musician would be permitted to pursue a solo career when not operating as a quartet, splitting the difference between bands and singer-songwriters. This novel arrangement signalled a high point in the power of rock musicians to set the terms of the music industry amid booming record sales and touring revenue. In 1970, they each made as much as $7m after taxes.

    Despite clashing personalities, their mellifluous vocal harmonies and powerfully melodic songs symbolised the hippy ethos of togetherness. Songs such as “Marrakesh Express” were secular hymns welcoming the new psychedelic age of liberation. Meanwhile, its collapse into violence and disillusionment was addressed by the likes of “Ohio”, a powerful condemnation of the slaughter of four students by National Guardsmen at Kent University in 1970.

    When The Beatles split up in 1970, there were hopes that CSNY could take over their mantle. But beneath the shows of brotherly unity lay a fraught set of internal dynamics, fuelled by greed, jealousy, ego and drugs. “If only we could get rid of this damn competitiveness, once and for all,” Stills lamented.

    Ironically, the rivalry now spills out on to the bookshelves with the simultaneous arrival of two band biographies. David Browne, a US music writer, covers their entire career in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup, from the 1960s to their present state of septuagenarian estrangement. Peter Doggett, a UK music writer, ends his book, the more soberly subtitled Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: The Biography, at an earlier episode of disintegration in 1974.

    The original trio of Crosby, Stills & Nash was led by Stills, a driven perfectionist nicknamed “Captain Manyhands” for his multi-instrumental skills. (He wanted his name to come first in their group name, but euphony won out: it sounded better starting with Crosby.) There was no lack of conflict between them, emotionally and creatively. But it was Young’s presence that caused the most destabilising battles. More spontaneous than Stills, also more ambivalent, he wanted to be musical leader while also reluctant to commit himself fully. “CSNY was a project, but CSN was a band,” recalls a backing musician who played with each iteration of the supergroup.

    Both books abound in absurdly capricious acts. Crosby threatens to quit a tour because his hotel room is too breezy and spends an hour shouting at an employee because his artichokes are overcooked. Stills sends a private jet to Colorado to pick up a case of his favourite beer. Even Nash, considered the most reasonable member, marches out on a record label in high dudgeon when it has the temerity to put a barcode on the cover of a solo album.

    Cocaine is threaded in fat, voracious lines throughout much of this entitled behaviour. It became a key ingredient in rock’s pharmacopoeia in the 1970s, part of a wider spread throughout the US. Stills’s exhausting all-night sessions in the recording studio were fuelled by “Jim Beam, cocaine and cheeseburgers”. The pleasure-seeking Crosby — whose credo was “playground, playpen, universe!” — descended into hellish addiction in the 1980s. What seemed an innocent pick-me-up back in the days of mellow Laurel Canyon jams proved, for CSNY, to be a gradual but ravening force of destruction.

    Doggett is more thoughtful than Browne about the way that dangerous lifestyles can be sanitised into the titillating apocrypha of rock mythology. He is also more sensitive to the place of women in CSNY’s story. The folk singer Judy Collins, with whom Stills was infatuated, and Joni Mitchell, who went out with Crosby and then Nash, both in awe of her songwriting talents, refused to play subordinate roles. Others, however, did.


    (Financial Times)

  8. Michael Engelbrecht:

    As soon as REFLECTIONS will or would get its well-deserved re-release, I would and will love to play the longest track at the end of the night, at 5.40 a.m.

  9. Brian Whistler:

    As I mentioned, I think it’s available as mp3s, but yeah, it deserves a remaster and rerelease on CD.

    That last track for sure: 20 minutes and it manages to keeps my interest. Listened to the whole album with headphones on the trail yesterday evening. Music that arises from the natural world sounds so good when one is walking in that world.

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