Oct 30, 1971. Cash Box (US)


by Ed Kelleher.

New York - Lady Melanie: A New Beginning.

Five thirty in the English morning. Final day, final festival. The sky glows. Jim Morrison is gone - performed last night. Across the battlefield bodies are sitting uncertainly in their bags. Children rub away electric sleep. Some embers remain. Hendrix will close it out tonight. The sun moves along the ground. Melanie sings. Later, returning to her trailer, as an intermission loudspeaker blares a scratchy pop single, she is met by sleepy tie-dyed minstrel, mouthing words to that record, his own song, "She's A Lady." Melanie is a lady.

Six oh eight on the Eastern shore this country. Another sun-up. Melanie's dancing on the sand, has no idea what she's doing. It's the intoxication which sets in after being up all night. Her photographer and friend Maddy Miller motions for her to stand still. Melanie complies.

We were meant to see the beginning of the day
I believe it was planned to lift us this way
Take you an apple and take you a song
And watch a baby day be born

This shot will be the cover of "Gather Me", Melanie's first album for Neighborhood Records.

It's a new beginning for her.

"I feel so free now. Even though I haven't been writing for the past few weeks, I'm not worried about it like I might have been before. I know it's there. Meanwhile I have all these new songs that are on the album and I want people to hear them!"

Melanie's loyal legions - the very young who flock to every appearance - have already committed them to memory. But another audience - older, perhaps even wiser - is discovering her. Many of these people rejected Melanie during her "Beautiful People" days and never came back for a second listen. This can be their new beginning to.

Oh, hold me I need everybody
Keep me in your nice, light sun
Until I'm center of your circle
Keep me hangin' on.

Recording "Gather Me" was a pleasant experience for Melanie.

"I felt so relaxed at the sessions. Most of the tracks were done in a few takes and I did the vocal on the bicycle song in just one!"

Known now as "Brand New Key", this is the unaffected refrain which has been released as a single. It's easily the most light-hearted thing on the album.

In marked contrast is the haunting and memorable "What Wondrous Love", a Southern Baptist Hymn which Melanie heard as a teenager while learning the pottery craft at a school in North Carolina.

"I wrote it down from memory and I'm pretty sure I messed up the middle verse. I left out a part about Christ".

There's an ethereal quality to her performance here. She sings from the side of a mountain.

When I was sinking down
I stopped and looked around
And there I heard the sound of my soul

occasionally in the nearlight of the concert hall, Melanie has paused to look.

"Sometimes I can see myself just occupying this one particular bit of space and nothing more. But then something will happen like I'll sing at the United Nations and it will mean so much. I looked around while I was doing "Peace Will Come" there and it hit me - how fantastic; I also thought what nerve I had!"

Melanie has always maintained her uneasy relationship with her image. Her fame songs - those in which she ponders the coils of celebrityhood - run like threads across the span of her records. Their moods have varied from the plaintiveness of "Take Me Home" to the pure defiance of "Tuning My Guitar" TO THE MELANCHOLY OF "Leftover Wine". Now she considers her position less as a birthright or even an ordeal and in a song called "Little Bit Of Me", she discerns a plan.

Well I don't mind the coming down
It's the way it's got to be
What I hope I got left inside
Is a little bit of me
And when it is all over
And I become a seed
They'll plant me in the universe
Where the balance got to be

Earlier this year, Melanie went to a California Health retreat to fast for twenty days. Most of the people there were considerably older and she went completely unrecognised.

"But one day someone noticed that I had a guitar in my room. I was asked to sing at this little communal gathering they held each night. I started doing my material but they weren't familiar with it. Then I got a request for "Tell Me Why". I had never heard of it so they taught it to me. I said I'll put that on an album."

She did, dropping that barber shop favourite in at the close of side two, leaving you with "Because God made you - that's why I love you."

The record was going to be called "Piney Tea" but then she thought of "Gather Me" and that was right. The songs really are like flowers - some fragile, others robust - each one a different species to be appreciated, and collectively forming a bouquet - a total picture of Melanie at this particular way station in life.

"Steppin'" may be the wisest song she has composed. It's about a love affair that splinters - inexplicably - and Melanie walks away from it like a lady. "Some Day I'll Be A Farmer" is a simple statement and you can feel it move. "Kansas" is a la la riff, the kind of thing Melanie or anyone might do sitting around the yard. Its freewheeling air is further evidence of her comfortable state during sessions.

Been walking down the street all night
and I been feeling kinda cold
Still feel naked,
God I wanna be warm before
I get old and I'm cold
Still feel hungry
God I want to give and
ring the living bell

Those lines are from "Ring The Living Bell", a song which begins as a chant - many voices, one aim. A split second of silence then Melanie, rhythmic and assured, leading the service. The other voices dart in and out like joyful shadows. The drums are right where you want them like friends. The song is there. It runs like clear water and Melanie runs with it. It's exciting. It's real. It's painfully beautiful. And this is the place on the album where if you weren't sure what Melanie was about, you've got to know. She is about being positive. She is about Sing. And Give and Make a New Beginning….

Five thirty in the New York evening. Sun slips behind a tower. Breeze comes off the park. Across the battlefield bodies are lurching homeward to their bags. Children are tossing chestnuts. The sky closes. Melanie walks.

"It's really autumn",

she exclaims.

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