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Ruthann Friedman - Constant Companion

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Artist: Ruthann Friedman

Album: Constant Companion

Label: Water

Review date: Apr. 27, 2006

Ruthann Friedman’s chief claim to fame is having written The Association’s 1967 hit “Windy.” Less well known, however, is Constant Companion , her sole solo album recorded for Reprise in 1969. Water’s reissue of the album seems timed to follow the success of other recently-rediscovered female singer-songwriters (Vashti Bunyan, Judee Sill) and the resurgence of ’60s-inspired folk in general. Constant Companion, however, is no mere nostalgia trip, nor is its re-release a case of opportunistic bandwagoning.

While Friedman’s music will undoubtedly be grouped with that of Bunyan and her present-day heirs (Devendra Banhart, for one), she has little in common with them. Contrary to what her song titles (“Piper’s Call,” “Fairy Prince Rainbow Man”) might suggest, she doesn’t indulge in idyllic flower-power folk. While Constant Companion doesn’t immediately elicit comparison to any particular artist, it is perhaps closest in spirit to the first two albums of Friedman’s Reprise labelmate Joni Mitchell. Like Mitchell, Friedman is a skilled guitarist and gifted songwriter, attributes that separate her from the era’s horde of would-be folkies. She possesses a deep, powerful voice, and her impressive vocal control suggests that she may have been classically trained. In other words, she’s no amateur dilettante who got lucky enough to record a one-shot album, but rather a fully mature and practiced artist.

The songs on Constant Companion cover a range of styles, from Simon and Garfunkel style folk (“People”) and Mitchell-inspired psychedelic ruminations (“Fairy Prince Rainbow Man,” “Danny”) to jazz-inflected pop (“Morning Becomes You”). The arrangements are sparse, consisting solely of Friedman’s acoustic guitar and voice, with the exception of lead guitar by Peter Kaukonen (brother of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna’s Jorma, and creator of Constant Companion’s cover art). Friedman’s wide stylistic range suggests that the suits at Reprise may have been a little too eager to force her into the role of “the next Joni”; several of her songs cry out for further orchestration (the fingerstyle guitar intro to “Looking Back Over Your Shoulder” being one case in point). While they work as acoustic compositions, they may have benefited from more complex arrangements, as does the post-album single “Carry On (Glittering Dancer),” a quirky track that indulges in Van Dyke Parks-style baroque orchestrations (apparently Parks and Friedman were briefly an item, and he executive produced the track.) Given the fact that Friedman hasn’t recorded anything since, Constant Companion can hardly help but evoke imaginings of what might have been had she stayed in the business longer. As it stands, though, the album is a fine effort, and its rescue from the archives is certainly to be applauded.

By Michael Cramer

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