Over the Christmas holiday I watch a documentary called Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation. I knew of the movement that was inspired by the New York neighborhood, but never realized that the music scene that came out of it was so varied. The expected kings (Bob Dylan)and queens (Joni Mitchell) got their due, but it was some of the lesser known players that got my attention. For instance I never realized how important Kris Kristofferson was to the movement. Previously I had only associated him with being one of the Outlaws and that guy who a drove the big truck in Convoy.
One of many musical surprises that came out of that documentary was a short segment featuring Melanie Safka. Safka or just “Melanie” was a folk singer-songwriter who had a string of hits during the late ’60s and early ’70s. On the documentary, she was shown singing the hit “Lay Down” from her third album Candles in the Rain. Like something from the production of Hair, “Lay Down” features a gospel choir, (the Edwin Hawkins Singers no less), but it was Safka’s soulful delivery that got my attention.
The song also struck me due to its very contemporary arrangements. maybe it was the way it was used in the documentary, but it actually sounded like it could have come from much later in the ’70s or even the ’80s. It had a nice rhythm about it that went beyond the typical protest/love song. Melanie’s vocal style had a child like or drunken wobble to it that made it enduring (think Edie Brickell meets Natalie Merchant).
The album covers many aspects of the folk rock sound circa 1970. Familiar songs like the Rolling Stone’s “Ruby Tuesday” or James Taylor’s “Carolina On My Mind” are mixed in with her originals like the beautiful “Leftover Wine” and “Almost Like Being in Love”. Depending on which release version you uncover, some songs are omitted (although my digital download included all of them-I think).
Melanie Safka was just one of the pleasant surprises featured in the film Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation. Others like Freid Neil had me looking for old music that would be new to me (a very exciting feeling). Just when you think you might have heard all that you wanted from a certain era, interesting stuff that’s new to you will pop up. I guess theres always something else out there to discover.