Album Reviews

Ruthann Friedman – Chinatown (Wolfgang Records)

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cRuthann Friedman was an original flower child. Born in the Bronx, playing guitar at age eight, later wafted by Bob Dylan’s music and LSD she migrated to West Hollywood and eventually up the coast to San Francisco where she befriended, among many others, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin, Ken Kesey, Alan Watts, and Joni Mitchell. She became close to a young Van Dyke Parks, who would go on to become a renowned composer, arranger, and producer. He introduced her to a group called the Association and in 1967 they recorded one of the most-played singles of the Sixties, “Windy” – written by Ms. Friedman. This led to the recording and release of her first album, Constant Companion, which showcased her considerable song-writing talent, guitar mastery, and vocal ability. Unfortunately, the album never caught on and her promising career never got started.

Now, at age 70, she has released her first new album since then. Her old friend Van Dyke Parks lends a hand and Jackson Browne provided the studio for Chinatown. It is a strong, mature recollection of one who was there at the beginning when the music changed forever. This not a “flower child” rehash. Gone are the Joni Mitchell-inspired music and vocals. These are sparse songs from the life by a survivor without apology or regret, more jazz than folk tinged. The opening cut, “That’s What I Remember” is a jazzy, somewhat whimsical, yet clear-eyed look back (“legs up in the air, deep in the zone”). The tone is one of acceptance, unsullied by nostalgia or self-aggrandizement.

“Our War” perhaps articulates the heart of this collection: “I am merely passing through, grateful for another day”. “iPod” is a telling social commentary about a generation tethered to the “electric teat,” never alone with ears full of sound. It is an insightful, gentle upbraiding without rancor. For me, “All I Have” is the core of this wonderful gift. It opens with: “Imagine this is your last day on earth.” Eventually, Ms. Friedman assures us, there is “no place better than here.” This release has led to a renewed interest in this artist, bearing witness to the most important musical and cultural revolution of the last 60 years. It was a long time coming, but well worth the wait.

– Robert Myers

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