As I’ve spent well over a year doing reviews like this now, I’m intrigued by the question, “Would I have liked this if I’d been age appropriate to listen to it at the time of its release?” It’s easy to say I like the Beatles or Bill Withers or 10cc or whoever now, in 2015, but that’s because these albums have had decades to permeate the culture. Time is often the most important thing in critical reviews. There are countless albums that were initially looked down upon by critics or commercial figures and only after much time have these critical opinions changed.
The whole reason I bring this up is that I’m curious if I would’ve enjoyed listening to Melanie if I was in the Baby Boomer generation. Melanie is the professional name of Melanie Safka, a folk singer who gained popularity in the late ’60s/early ’70s. She’s no longer a household name, but she enjoyed a lot of the same success as her folk contemporaries at that time. It’s interesting to wonder why she faded into history while singers like Carole King or Joni Mitchell or James Taylor became the singer-songwriter legends that they did.
Because most of this album is in the same class as Blue or Tapestry. Her voice absolutely evokes the female folk singer subgenre that was such a hit around this time. “Shine The Living Light (Chant & Reprise)” reminded me immediately of Joni Mitchell, but with a tighter cadence in her singing. Melanie even evokes some of Dolly Parton’s classic country warble on “Little Bit Of Me.”
A lot of this album is good, and some of it is just OK. “Brand New Key” is the biggest hit and the one my parents might remember or recognize. And I like it a lot. It’s a cute little novelty song, kind of reminiscent of Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” or Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime.” Kind of a throwback tune, even for 1971. But “Some Day I’ll Be A Farmer” is even better; it retains just a pinch of that novelty feel, an almost winky-cute melody but staying grounded enough to not seem like a total joke and instead just a really catchy, great song.
But I’m listening to this album in 2015 instead of 1971, so I’m inclined to rate this album lower than I might have had I not had the last 40 years of musical context surrounding it. I feel the same about Blue or Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon. There are a few really good songs, but overall (especially the last half of the album), I’m not in love with all of it. If you like other female folk singers from the early ’70s, this album would be a safe bet for you.
Top 3 Tunes:
- Some Day I’ll Be A Farmer
- Brand New Key
- Shine The Living Light (Chant & Reprise)