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V/A - Women Blue: 16 Lost US Femvox Classics

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Artist: V/A

Album: Women Blue: 16 Lost US Femvox Classics

Label: Past & Present

Review date: Dec. 9, 2009

Milos Forman’s first American movie, Taking Off (1971) opens in a massive open-call audition for girl singers. Ladies of all sizes and hair lengths (though mostly skinny with long straight locks) play various instruments, coo about peace or brassily demand legalization. In the film, the scene satirizes the conformity of non-conformists, the vagueness of a rebellion that yearns for a record contract. Seen now, though, it’s striking to look at a moment in time when it was simply trendy for girls to write songs.

Women Blue is a well-curated survey of that time and of its nonfictional non-Jonis, Joans, Judys, or even Judees. It forms an excellent prequel to Numero Group’s 2006 comp Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From the Canyon: both lean toward the weirder, darker realms of the folk revival, with eerie Christian overtones, longing , and no shortage of depression.

Women Blue’s songs come from a slightly earlier period (and from a broader range of genres) than the post-Ladies of the Canyonisms of the Numero comp. Forget Past & Present’s declaration on the CD sleeve that this record offers an “emphasis on acoustic guitar”; this comp’s interest lies in presenting songs that feature unique, unanticipated arrangements. Emily’s 1972 “Song of Decision,” for instance, the singer’s Broadway-ready voice is backed by a creepy, reverby electric organ, and cymbals. An erratically pounded tom-tom behind an insistent, repetitive finger-picked guitar part gives Mary McCaslin’s cover of the Motown song “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” a disturbing edge. Perhaps most bizarre is Dayle Stanley, who developed her own singing technique so that her voice sometimes sounds like a war whoop fed through a Lesley speaker.

Though some words are better ignored (In the quiet country of your eyes, I lie down easy,” for real?), there are even a few songs with standout lyrics. Karen Beth’s “In the Morning” consists of a series of elaborate, prying questions directed to a man about his lover’s moods and faults, concluding with the singer’s only self-reference, a smug confession that “sometimes I smile.” The song’s a nice pick, coming as it does from an album oft-found and ignored in used-record bins rather than from an obscure private pressing.

The song points to one of the faults of a comp like this: because it was a thing-to-do, myriad women, gymnasiums full, like in the movie, wrote a brilliant song or two in the late 1960s and early ’70s and, given patience, you can likely track down the elements needed for your own lost-ladies comp. A collection like this proves as worthwhile overall as a well-made mixtape by someone willing to judge a lot of records by the thoughtfully tilted head and center-parted hair on their covers.

By Talya Cooper

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