We are living in a wonderful era for music, and even if you are not that into the contemporary scene. Because there is simply so much old and rare stuff suddenly becoming available like never before! I'd heard of this album on and off as being a rare and obscure gem that fetched crazy prices at record fares. Thankfully a local dealer recommended this reissue to me, and played me The Ballad of Marty Mole as a taster. I can't put into words how stunning this album is. By showcasing Linda Hoyle's versatility it probably plays into the hands of reviewers who want to describe it as inconsistent or unfocused, but it is in fact wonderfully diverse: a voice like this it would be madness to tie to one style when she shines at so many. Hymn to Valerie S is dark and brooding, Journey's End is big and grand, but best of all are the moody, melancholy ballads, Paper Tulips, Morning for One, Lonely Women and of course Marty Mole. Hoyle has an extraordinary ability to sing with an almost operatic passion without raising the volume of her voice; it's a strange and enchanting trait. Marty Mole is a particularly bewitching track,a story of toys coming to life that wouldn't have been out of place on Genesis' Nursery Cryme album of the same year. It has something of Syd Barrett in its surrealness but is much more focused and the allegory it tells of Linda's experiences in the music biz is much more tight and to the point than merely being hippy fantasising. This has quickly become one of my ten favourite albums of all time. There is such a range of styles its probably likely that anyone would like at least one track! But Marty Mole and Morning for One are particularly lush and lovely. If only she'd done more.
I bumped into the "Affinity" CD by chance in my favourite CD shop (down the Lanes in Brighton - you know where it is!), and was amazed by the singer's incredible voice - Grace Slick (the Airplane goddess) crossed with Julie Driscoll (Wheels on Fire), with some liberal dashes of Nina Simone, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. So, a bit of exploration of the 'net - and here we have Linda Hoyle's one and only solo recording. Even better than the Affinity CD, which suffers a little from an over-enthusiastic Hammond Organist. "Pieces of Me" focuses on Linda's wonderful voice, showcased in a wide variety of style - Blues, Jazz, Soul, Ballads - with an amazing backing group - including John Marshall and Karl Jenkins (from Soft Machine) and Chris Spedding (from just about everywhere!). And then she just disappeared! If you love the voices of any of the ladies mentioned above - give this masterpiece from 1971 a try.
I'm probably being unfair in reviewing this during a spell when I'm also listening a lot to Maggie Bell's "Queen Of Night". But I'm bound to say that Bell's album is a benchmark for female rock vocalists. That said, Hoyle is no slouch and, like Bell, is versatile, perhaps more so. The first three tracks are quite distinct from one another in style and she handles them all well. She is chilling on the personal politics of Nina Simone's "Backlash Blues", as smooth as glass on "Paper Tulips" and a touch dirty on "Black Crow".
To me, the singer she most resembles in timbre is Julie Driscoll, whom, the sleevenotes reveal, she knew. The presence of musicians of the calibre of Chris Spedding help in no small measure, but they never take the show away from her. If there is a weakness it is that all of the songs, save for the three cover versions, appear to have been written to order for the album. Under those conditions, you don't tend to get great material. Consequently, this is a triumph for style despite the substance. The songs are pretty good but none are outstanding. The aforementioned Maggie Bell album doesn't consist of original material but with singers of that standard, it's more about interpretation. Hoyle's performance of "Backlash Blues" reveals what she can do with a fine song. "Pieces Of Me" might have been better then, but it's still a worthy example of a fine singer running through a wide range of twentieth century styles.
If memory serves this album originally came out in December 1971 on Vertigo. It was destined to sink without trace at the time, although in the years since it's taken on the kind of odd cachet which has ensured its reissue at least four times in the last twenty years (on the Angel Air, Arkarna, Background, and Repertoire labels) Given the obviously limited amount of material, in the sense that none of the reissues offers any bonus tracks or the like, for me the Repertoire is the one to go for mainly because it's in one of those miniature LP sleeves -nice.........gatefold too.........
Hoyle had a hell of a band behind her, virtually the whole of Nucleus in fact, and in Karl Jenkins before he went into cod-Classical mode she had a good musical foil for her lyrics. There's a range of material here, ranging from the hard rocking "Black Crow" (Hoyle/Jenkins) to Laura Nyro's "Lonely Women" which receives a treatment even better than the original. Performed by just voice and piano, the implied starkness brings out the structure and deeply touching nature of the song in a way that a fussy arrangement would only mask.
"Journey's End" has a singular lilt, punctuated by Chris Spedding's deft guitar interjections and a French horn break which lifts the spirit, or at least my spirit.
It's not difficult to see why Hoyle / Jenkins made Dionne Warwick an offer of the song "Paper Tulips" for even while Hoyle retains her own identity it's easy to imagine Warwick getting her voice around it.
"Hymn to Valerie Solanas" highlights Hoyle's awareness of the issues of the day through her obvious knowledge of the woman who attacked Warhol and specialized in a trenchant brand of feminism.
All in all this is a really diverse album, complete with any implications of a `lack of a direction' some might accordingly read into it. I'm not one of them, however, because I think this is an album which was out of its time at the time, and for all the `progress' that might have been made in popular culture, the attitudes of the time etc. Things are different now, and how, but this is one of those `records' which will inevitably `touch' or reach someone somewhere, so in its unassuming way it's stood that test of time.
I have over one thousand LPs and this easily sits in my top ten along with Maggie Bell's Queen of the Night. Comparisons are not worthy as each is brilliant in its own right. For Hoyle the sheer quality of the material coupled with a superb clutch of musicians, brilliant arrangements, superb production and recording and Linda Hoyle herself make this an absolute gem. I'm fortunate enough to still have my vinyl copy (as well as the CD)and never tire of giving it a spin and letting myself slip away to enjoy it all. Shame she didn't record more.
Fantastic vinyl reissue from Repertoire Records of Germany, superb packaging, very quiet pressing with great sound quality. Forget spending mega bucks on original Vertigo Swirl label, highly recommend!