Saturday, July 29, 2006

Penny Lang, Gather Honey

No, not the groupie from Almost Famous.

Penny Lang
Gather Honey
(Borealis, 2001)

Penny Lang's Gather Honey offers snapshots of the folk club scene in North America in the 1960s and 1970s. Via these rare live and studio recordings, one can glimpse the ascendance of Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian and Buffy Ste. Marie as songwriters of choice and witness the fusion of country, blues and rock that filled coffeehouses during that era.

Fortunately, Gather Honey is more than an archive: It's a portrait of a remarkable singer, Montreal's Penny Lang. The first track is a somewhat noisy recording of Leadbelly's "In the Pines," made when Lang was a 21-year-old secretary playing for five dollars a night at Montreal's Café Andre. By the time track 16 rolls around, it's 1978, and Lang is assured, throaty, an all-out diva, growling "Goodbye, So Long" on a small-combo version of "Gather Honey." She is also near the end of the first phase of her musical career; soon after, she would retire to the Canadian wilderness until the late 1980s. (She is now recording and performing again -- few performers have the good fortune to enjoy two musical careers in one lifetime.)

On one of two bonus tracks, we hear Lang interviewed about her childhood influences and singing a couple of them: Jimmie Rodgers' "Waiting for a Train" and the Scots traditional "One-and-a-Tanner."

Gather Honey is a great introduction to a hardworking and gifted artist, an interpreter in a class with Raitt, Sandy Denny and Cass Elliot.

Pamela Murray Winters
Rambles, 18 August 2002

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