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Melanie Melanie
Album: Garden In The City
Label: Talking Elephant
Tracks: 9
Website: http://www.melaniesafka.com

In 1970, Melanie Safka was riding high. She'd had hits in Europe with Bobo's Party and Beautiful People, been one of only three women on the Woodstock bill, received four standing ovations at the isle of Wight Festival and had scored her first US Top 10 single with 'Lay Down' and her first in the UK with 'Ruby Tuesday'.

However, things were not well with her label, Buddah, which was insisting she produced albums on demand, and she left to set up her own Neighborhood Records, having her biggest US hit in 1972 with Brand New Key. As is often the case, her old label, having lost its cash cow, decided to mine the archives, resulting in this collection of outtakes, incomplete recordings and two film soundtrack numbers, released without her permission. Having already had four hit albums in the UK, two of which went Top 10, this was also a Top 20 hit, but would also prove her last, fans possibly put off by the uneven quality of the material. Or maybe the scratch and sniff sleeve of the UK edition.

It clearly bears the hallmarks of an album cobbled together, and the bluesy 'Don't You Wait By The Water 'with its loose throbbing acoustic guitar and basslines sounds very much like a work in progress, waiting to be developed. However, there's material here that would comfortably have graced an official release, not least the relocated country girl lament of the title track (originally recorded for Columbia prior to signing to Buddah) with its strings swathed tumbling chorus and the tempo shifting, gypsyish martial beat 'Stop! I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore' which would become a fan favourite. And, of course, her heady six and half minute version of Dylan's 'Lay lady Lay' with its improvised sounding excursion into Jethro Tull flute prog jazz-folk territory.

The two numbers from the RPM soundtrack, the woodwinds, brass and strings coloured folksy balladry 'We Don't Know Where We're Going' and, a tip of the hat perhaps to the likes of Holiday and Washington, her acoustic cover of the jazzy torch blues standard Somebody Loves Me are both strong. On the downside her take on the Stones' 'Jig Saw Puzzle' is a bit of unfocused ramble and, whatever the power of her vocals, the album closer, 'People In The Front Row' with, overstated orchestra and lyrics about loving her audience (at times its faked laughter suggests an artist's mental derangement) should have perhaps remained on the shelf, or at least been given a second opinion. Such quibbles aside, however, its first appearance on CD will be most welcomed by her still huge army of devotees.

Mike Davies