Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ill-ustrated Songs #21 - COMIN' ON BACK TO YOU

Among the many sublime little hippie-chick ditties out there, there's "Comin' On Back," barely two minutes on the obscure quadraphonic RCA album Carolyn Hester made in 1973. Billboard called it a "good mix of country, rock and folk from (the) veteran singer." It was, as rock critics love to say, an "eponymous" release (artist's name being the title). And in this nostalgic mood of the 6th anniversary of the blog, a little return to genteel "hippie dippie" thinking seemed like fun. Imagine, a chick who actually thinks of selling some newspapers to raise money to meet her man. What, she can't just steal 2000 eBooks and collect Fileserve spare change or get a blog and some Paypal donations??

Hester probably remains best known for being a Greenwich Village icon pre-Bob Dylan (at Club 47 among others) and for her pioneering connection to him: allowing Bob into the studio to play on her Columbia album before he was signed to the label. Though eclipsed by Bob, and by Joan Baez and Judy Collins among female folkies, the "Texas Songbird" was on vinyl as early as 1957, had already married (and divorced) a major player on the folk scene in Richard Farina, and as a symbol of the new era of folk music graced the cover of the "Saturday Evening Post" for May 30, 1964.

Her big albums of that era were "This Life I'm Living" (Columbia) and the two "Carolyn Hester at Town Hall" albums for Dot (re-issued on CD by Bear Family). Legend has it that Hester was so big, she turned down the chance to become part of a trio with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey. The trio instead became "Peter Paul and Mary."

As folk music evolved from traditional to commercial, Hester's somewhat flinty delivery left her trailing the more pop-oriented ladies. She ended the 60's by marrying David Blume (he wrote The Cyrkle hit "Turn Down Day") and they worked on various projects together and individually, including albums on their own Outpost label. She made some attempts to adjust and update herself ("The Carolyn Hester Coalition" album featured a trendy cleavage-showing album cover…partially copped for the Photoshop job above). But by the 70's, with Carly and Ronstadt among the top sellers, the high-voiced Hester wasn't getting airplay. "Comin' On Back" in 1973 didn't bring her back. She's remained busy with solo tours, which included Blume as a side-man (he passed on in 2006).

Even now, when most sophisticated listeners are used to high voices (Kate Bush) and somewhat wayward ones (Iris Dement), there hasn't seemed to be enormous interest in Hester, and when people grab a Nanci Griffith album, they haven't added a Hester, thinking "I'd like more in Nanci's groove." At least Nanci Griffith and Carolyn Hester teamed up to sing "Boots of Spanish Leather" at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniverary show at Madison Square Garden back in 1992. In 1995 long-time hippies who could no longer patch the belt-drive on the turntable, rejoiced at a double CD reissue of her Outpost material. Hester then issued the new "From These Hills" in 1999, a "Tom Paxton Tribute" in 2000, and her most recent album is a collaboration that includes her two daughters, Amy and Karla Blume: "We Dream Forever" (2009). All are available via mail order and can be ordered at her website.

Hester's RCA album remains outta print. But listen to this cut, with its charming references to simply gettin' by on a modest income selling alternative newspapers. The song reflects the still-naive way some hippies intended to live their lives…without stealing, selfishness, or becoming Yuppies. While a minor part of the Hester legend, it's an introduction that may lead you to her folk era past, and to her contemporary CDs today.

CAROLYN HESTER's COMIN' ON BACK to YOU Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.

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