Home Music Various Artists: Belong to the Wind

Various Artists: Belong to the Wind

Private press albums aren’t just for lounge acts. Far from it. While up-beat cover bands in the ‘70s were happy to order custom product to sell at well-attended gigs, solitary, introspective artists also answered the call of the vanity pressing, making records pressed in limited quantities and likely distributed only to friends and relatives. But they can’t all be fascinating outsiders like Lewis. Belong to the Wind, the debut release from Los Angeles label Forager Records, taps a similar vein of loner-folk and psychedelic music originally released on 45. None of the 10 tracks are clunkers, but only one selection breaks out of the brooding template.

Autumn Dust’s 1975 release “Spend Another Day” opens the set on a note of perfectly competent melancholy folk rock. With synthesizers standing in for strings and guitars echoing in a mournful electric choir, it’s a haunting track that sets a lonely tone for the rest of the album, but the melody isn’t developed enough to deliver any hooks, which can be elusive in the world of private press singer-songwriters.

Cisco’s 1975 release “Oh Man,” which benefits from ‘70s pop sax, gets closer, but the telling line “success is there within your grasp” seems to set up its own failure, which the sax player seems to be aware of, losing the melody as it goes along. But the chorus, “Oh man where did you come from” is catchy in the kind of regretful ‘70s pop school of “A Horse with No Name.” Snuffy’s 1973 release “I Wanna Change My Life” gets off another good hook, and the vocal harmonies are just a decent producer shy of a bubbling-under hit, but like the rest of the album, what distinguishes it from Top 40 is what makes it intriguing: that sense of desperation. “I’m positive I want to live now/ I bet you’re just dying to see” sounds like inspirational verse on paper, but the delivery is so brooding that it doesn’t take off.

The brooding doesn’t stop, and if nearly everything here strikes a certain elusive, almost eerie tone, most artists don’t reach above a certain level. With a title like “Tuesday Morning Monday’s Feeling Gone,” you know Denny Fast doesn’t quite hit his marks, and if lines like “Smile as we woke up/ Laugh as we toke up” mark a clearly amateur songwriter, that’s part of its charm—and also part of its limitations.

The standout here comes from St. Elmo’s Fire, whose 1975 release “The Lady Has No Heart” seems to come from some alternate world where Fleetwood Mac suffered from chronic depression. The female singer is more assured than most here, but again the lyrics, about a heartless prostitute, are a little off: “If you’re nice, she’ll tell you about all the johns she’s laid.” But the band, playing at a folk-rock dirge pace, gets that tone down just right, the defeated detachment offset by the soul that emerges through the singer’s lamentation.

The title cut closes the album with one of the better lyrics, but where the musicianship of St. Elmo’s Fire elevates the unpolished material, the male vocal here isn’t soulful enough to pull off the ‘70s anomie. Though released in 1974, the vocal sounds like a mid-‘60s lounge singer. He’s trying, and the producer attempts to help him out with some lonely reverb, but when he hits the lines “I can still feel the sorrow/ I can still feel the pain,” it’s just not convincing. Which is the problem with much of Belong to the Wind. Connoisseurs of private-press records will be grateful that Forager uncovered a new set of rarities. But there’s not much payoff.

Summary
Connoisseurs of private-press records will be grateful that Forager uncovered a new set of rarities. But there’s not much payoff.
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