Essra Mohawk – Sandy’s Album Is Here At Last + Primordial Lovers + Essra Mohawk

January 01, 1970

 

 

(Collectors’
Choice Music)

 

www.ccmusic.com

 

Songwriter/pianist
Essra Mohawk’s career has moved along a unique path, to put it mildly. After
recording a single as a teenager and turning down a songwriting gig at the Brill Building, she
briefly joined the Mothers of Invention (she was the original Uncle Meat)
before releasing an album with Frank Zappa’s help. After a few albums, her voice
became familiar to Saturday morning television audiences via Schoolhouse Rock (“Interjection,”
“Sufferin’ Till Suffrage”). She later sang back-up with the Jerry Garcia Band,
almost replaced Grace Slick in Jefferson Starship and had songs recorded by
Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner. Still performing currently, her first three
albums have been reissued by Collectors’ Choice Music.

 

The
cover of Sandy‘s Album is Here At Last!
released in 1969 under her real name of Sandy Hurvitz – features the artist
staring off with a stoned gaze as an image of Zappa blurts the title from a
television screen, via a cartoonish quote bubble. Though she signed to the
guitarist’s Bizarre Productions and released through Verve, her music was
nowhere near the outlandish territory of the Mothers, despite what the cover
implied. In fact, it sounds 40-odd years later like a set of demos, albeit ones
with a strong sense of melodic structure and lyrical breadth.

 

Zappa
apparently lost interest in production early on in the project, and turned the
duties over to bandmate Ian Underwood who did more damage than good, frequently
erasing backing tracks and leaving Hurvitz/Mohawk alone on a song with just her
piano. As misguided as the effort seemed at the time, the starkness serves her
songs better than some of the band arrangements. The rhythm section often gets
clunky and inclusion of flute distracts from the singer’s voice, which has a
quality that’s closer to gritty – almost nasal – soul rather than pretty folk
singer. Saxophonist Jim Pepper’s sudden appearance in “I Know the Sun” is the
exception, popping up out of nowhere to color in some of the darkness of the
song.

 

A
modern day comparison could be drawn between Hurvitz/Mohawk and Drag City artist
Azita. Both traffic in unconventional songs that are initially jarring but
reveal a wider sound with continued exploration. On top of this unique
performance style, the album is challenge because of the muddy sound quality,
which makes it sound like bootleg release that’s several dubs removed from the
original source recording. Whether that resulted from Underwood’s indifference
or not can’t be clarified but it certainly distracts from an otherwise
intriguing album.

 

Hurvitz
committed to her nickname Essra and married producer Frazier Mohawk (Nico’s Marble Index, Kaleidoscope) by the time
the couple began work on Primordial
Lovers
for Reprise in 1969. This time, instrumentation varied with every
track. Opener “I Know the Breeze,” has only an oboe adding to the moody piano
and voice. Guitar trios appear on several tracks, and two even add full brass
sections. Again the accompaniment doesn’t always complement Mohawk; some of the
trio work sounds a little stiff and an extra demo of “I Have Been Here Before”
plays up the songs drama better than the originally released version with bass
trombones blowing behind her. But aside from Mohawk’s new interest in Joni
Mitchell-esque high vocal trills and frequent marble-mouthed delivery, Primordial Lovers frequently intrigues
with blends of brainy jazz chords and folk stylings.

 

By the
time of her self-titled album, released in 1974 by Elektra/Asylum, Mohawk struck
a good balance between a rock setting and her unique style to deliver the strongest
set of songs. Most of the original 11 tracks barely reach the three-minute
mark, but she packs a lot into each one. The piano trios and occasional guitars
add force to the proud, sexually liberated voice (“Openin’ My Love Doors,” “You
Make Me Come to Pieces”) that sounds just as strong on the more pensive pieces.
The album could very easily have appealed to an audience looking for someone
with more grit than Carole King and more focus than Flora Purim, but of course
that’s hindsight talking. With any luck, fans of modern unique folk with check
out Mohawk’s first generation work for a good sense of history.

 

Richie
Unterberger pens some detailed liner notes for each disc, but aside from that
historical context, Collector’s Choice packaged each disc like the typical mid-‘90s
reissue, reducing back cover art and credits to disc size without including
blown up graphics inside. This is especially frustrating on Sandy’s Album since the lyrics on the
back cover now require really strong eyes or a magnifying glass to be seen.
Considering Primordial Lovers and Essra Mohawk were previously been
reissued together in a Rhino Handmade package, this streamlined production skimps
on looks and leaves a little to be desired. The performance credits on that one
are also hard to read.

 

Standout Tracks:
“Archgodliness of Purpleful Magic,” “All This Time Goes By” (Sandy‘s Album is Here At Last). “I Am the Breeze,” “Thunder in the Morning”
(Primordial Lovers), “New Skins for
Old,” “You’re Finally Here” (Essra Mohawk). MIKE SHANLEY

 

 

 

 

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