Time. It’s a funny old thing. The normal trajectory for musicians usually adheres to the ‘album-tour’ loop and any years off in-between are frowned upon, even fretted over by fetid fans awaiting the next musical missive form their icons.
Some artists don’t adhere to this schedule, with prime cases in point being Kate Bush, The Blue Nile who took a slovenly 22 years to produce four albums, and Guns ‘n’ Roses taking 15 years to release the woeful Chinese Democracy.
Linda Perhacs’ work rate brings a whole new meaning to ‘taking a lifetime’ as The Soul Of All Natural Things comes a whole world away (44 years to be precise) since her debut Parallelograms, which in itself took years to be recognized for being more than mere Laurel Canyon wispy folk whimsy.
Parallels can be drawn with another influential recluse, Vashti Bunyan, who similarly released an album in the ’70s to no great response and, discouraged, left it another 35 years before re-entering the studio once the album (Just Another Diamond Day) received the acclaim it sadly lacked on its release.
So, what has brought Perhacs back, and what does she have to say being out in the wilderness for so long? Is she a ‘true artist’? A seer? Just plain lazy? Alongside maintaining her ‘day job’ as a dental hygienist Perhacs felt it was “her purpose” to get people “back in balance with their polestar”, and make them feel “lifted”. The danger here is that this 68-year-old is led astray by the shiny production and eco-earth-mother vibe that she ends up sounding like Madonna’s granny. Thankfully, for the most part, instead of some tie-dyed, out-dated bleatings of a bewildered protest singer, Perhacs speaks of interior conflict, and an awareness of the need to maintain a balance with the world, set to some supremely crafted songs of real beauty.
Working in California with Nite Jewel, and co-producers Chris Price and Fernando Perdomo, Perhacs has retained the dreamy ambience of her debut album’s atmospherics and brought in subtle electronic augmentation as a conscious continuation of that work. Perhacs’ voice is by turns crisp, warm and untouched by time, and is couched in a brisk, sympathetic production. Title track The Soul Of All Natural Things eases in on a shimmering haze of spidery acoustics and harmony before cutting loose with an unexpected flamenco section in the middle; it’s the very definition of free spirited.
The warmth of her vocals on the slightly whimsical Children is offset by flowing strings that peel off in layers around the central acoustic motif. Daybreak calls to mind Joni Mitchell or even Beth Orton (without the ‘comedown’ qualities) with its stripped-down backing. Hushed harmonies beckon River Of God with the hushed intimacy of Suzanne Vega as part-confessional, part-celebrational. Prisms Of Glass is an ethereal piece replete with music-box chimes and a mournful vocal amply supported by fan Julia Holter that spirals in on itself like some helix of doubt and menace.
It’s not all freewheeling whimsy. A wrong step comes on the techno-lite of Intensity, which builds frantic percussive parts and synth beds and doesn’t sit well with the rest of the material, with its babble of “living on the edge” and “dancing for my brother to give him power”. However, better in the same vein is Immunity, which balances the hectic pace of life with climbing harmonies that soothe. And Freely, which previously appeared on Devendra Banhart’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, succeeds in restoring some decorum to proceedings.
Unfortunately When Things Are True Again doesn’t really add anything to the view of, ‘ look, the world is basically buggered but we just need to slow down, and look a bit deeper than preference of coffee shop’. With its monastic airs and Disney-esque key changes it spoils what at first showed signs of being a little gem. And finale Song Of The Planets rolls into view with a mawkish male voiceover bleating about being one with the essence of the world.
For all the wait and weight of expectation, and despite some qualified successes, ultimately The Soul Of All Natural Things proves to havde too big a shadow to fill. Yet hiding within it is a charming mini-album by a sweet lost voice, one that’s ready to be found again.