[12 March 2014]
In 1970, Linda Perhacs recorded Parallelograms, a cult classic filled with earnest psychedelic folk songs and a magical, mind-bending title track. After spreading through word of mouth and peer-to-peer file sharing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Parallelograms was reissued in 2003 to deserved acclaim. Perhacs herself returned to music with a guest vocal on Devendra Barnhart’s 2007 album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, and in the subsequent years has assembled The Soul of All Natural Things, her first full album since her debut some 44 years ago.
It’s immediately obvious some things have changed. Understandably, the 70-year-old Perhacs doesn’t have the same vocal range nor strength she did at 25; where once she soared like an eagle, here she is more earthbound, with human frailties brought on by age. The breathy vibrato that creeps into her sustained notes is charming, and brings a human touch to an album whose concerns are less with the body and the Earth than the soul and the stars.
What’s less welcome is some of the music, which doesn’t always seem in keeping with the Perhacs’ lyrical concerns or current vocal capabilities. There’s some questionable mid-‘90s folktronica, and the flamenco flourishes on the title track not only seem forced, but push her vocally to a pace where she nearly stumbles. On “Immunity”, Perhacs is almost swamped by the tempo, the rhythm a storm threatening constantly to capsize and drown her.
However, there are songs on The Soul of All Natural Things that do succeed, if not quite on the transcendent level of Parallelograms’ title cut. For example, “River of God” manages to put its Enigma-esque beat to good use, and Perhacs sings with sincerity and passion. There is no doubting her conviction and belief, and it carries the song until the chorus, when her voice weaves with those of her collaborators Ramona Gonzalez and Julia Holter in a tapestry of shifting, delicate tones. The same layered vocals return on “Prisms of Glass”, where they reflect and refract, and split and combine, like light through the prisms of the title.
The Soul of All Natural Things comes to a fine finale with the subtle and stirring “Song of the Planets”. It’s a straightforward universalist prayer, the mantra, “we are one, we are one”, repeating and growing to fill the ears before dissolving into the universal hum. It’s a striking piece that would fail in most artist’s hands, but again Perhacs’ heartfelt belief carries it past any corniness or cheesiness that the idea of universal peace and harmony may produce in the current incredulous era.
To live up to the legacy of a cult classic is a daunting task; while The Soul of All Natural Things isn’t quite up to the challenge, it does add a number of memorable songs to her catalog. Most importantly, it returns Perhacs to the public eye, and reports are her next album is already in the planning stages. Here’s hoping it’ll be the one to remove the cult from her classic status.