Up From the Dustbin: Susan Christie, “Paint a Lady”

Did you know about this album? Because I didn’t.  It’s haunting.  The thing is, this album should be something that only old hippies remember – only to be heard from when they pull out their old LPs when they’re feeling nostalgic about the prime of their lives.  It is music that is so much of its time.  The content, the context, the arrangements – it’s very clearly music from the late 60’s or early 70’s.  But, like Love’s Forever Changes there is something compelling in the narrative, in the music.  It abides.  It straddles two decades and several genres of both songwriting and music.  But it endures.

I heard Paint a Lady, the title track on the Gorilla vs Bear Blog radio show.  I was transfixed.  I was sure it was an old Neko Case.  Then I downloaded the record.  It’s full of rainy days, sequin gowns, cowboys and fantasy, and “ghost riders in the sky.”  On Rainy Days, the opener, Christie calls out, “I should have known… when times they got hard…you go and steal away”, setting up a theme she’ll come back to throughout the record – loneliness.  On Ghost Riders in the Sky she peels a heartrending “yippee-i-ay…yippee-i-o”.  You imagine a cowboy or cowgirl sitting on a fence and staring into the expanse of the west.

Sure, there is a strange post-beat, proto-slam poetry bit halfway through.  But it’s convenient break in the music.

Christie starts out the second half of the record asking “where is my mind…” while moving away from the psychedelic folk and into a bluesy rock song that could have been Patti Smith.  The rest of the record is just as much story-telling as what came before, relying on folk, funk, and rock arrangements.  She muses on solitary life, “empty hours, empty days…filled with empty promises that you made…”  It’s a fantastic take on a style of folk and country writing that has largely gone away now.  You find it remnants in bands like the Decemberists, who bolster the dreamy, strange story telling with a bit of indie flair.  But Paint a Lady is that at it’s best.

Apparently Christie was fairly obscure, even in her day.  She had one hit back in the seventies, but never made it past that.  In 2006, Finder’s Keepers Records found three of the remaining five LPs and used these as source material for a re-release.  The people at Finder’s Keepers are clearly folks with too much time on their hands.  But they should be thanked for digging up such a wonderful collection of music that was on the verge of being lost to time.

Listen here

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