Ear to the Ground

Ear to the Ground

by Malvina ReynoldsMalvina Reynolds


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Although the scope of this anthology is wide, it shouldn't be mistaken for a definitive best-of retrospective. All of the selections are taken from albums released on Reynolds' own Cassandra label between 1970 and 1980, with the addition of a couple of spoken-word introductions from Susan Wengraf's film on the singer, Love It Like a Fool. That means that there's nothing from her prior recordings on Folkways and Columbia in the '60s, and that the versions of her most well-known songs -- "Little Boxes" and "What Have They Done to the Rain?" -- are not the originals. At any rate, the music is interesting if quite uneven, and not always as well sung and performed as it is well-written. While Reynolds is known as a folk singer, her Cassandra recordings usually used a full electric band, and are actually more properly classified as folk-rock. With topical songs that take such a progressive and good-hearted position, one is almost reluctant to point out that Reynolds' straining, wavering vocals are not wholly up to the material. That's a shame, because although some of this stuff is sanctimonious, some of it is also quite good: not just "Little Boxes" and "What Have They Done to the Rain?," but others as well. Those who think of her as a protest folk singer might be surprised to find some pretty good, melodic folk-rockers here. The melancholic "The World's Gone Beautiful," as unlikely as it might seem, could have easily fit into the repertoire of a Jefferson Airplane-type group in the late '60s. It might be heresy to suggest this, but it could be that Reynolds' songs would have been better served by strong interpreters than by the singer herself. Still, this collection has its merits, including comprehensive, affectionate notes by friend and fellow folk singer Rosalie Sorrels.

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