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Difficult And Beautiful: Sandy Hurvitz’s Album Is Here At Last

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Once upon a time Frank Zappa found himself without a keyboard player.  A young gal named Sandy Hurvitz auditioned for the job.   Rather than play Zappa tunes (she didn’t know any), she sat at a piano and played her own songs.  She got the job.  After a few gigs with the Mothers of Invention, Frank decided she should do her own album, which he would produce.  But things didn’t go as planned.  The first session, with Sandy backed by the Mothers, ended in disaster.  Zappa left production duties to fellow Mother, Ian Underwood, who was clearly lost as to how to handle her beautiful, but somewhat difficult songs.   Difficult because of the changing rhythm patterns; beautiful because of her voice and the lyrics. A little Joni Mitchell, a little Laura Nyro.  But ultimately like neither of them.

As she explains in the liner notes, the album was not supposed to end up with most of the songs just herself at the piano, unaccompanied.  The tracks were simply left unfinished and released as is.  But as we all know, there are happy accidents in life and this may be one of them.  The songs left bare bones are quite lovely and just as powerful as those on which there are other musicians.  What’s interesting is that the songs on which she’s joined by others are given a jazzy accompaniment, yet when you hear her stuff alone you don’t really think jazz.  They’re almost classical at times, which may explain why Underwood erased some of the overdubs.

The best of the lot is “Woman,” which also happened to be Frank’s fave.  But there are more shining moments throughout.  “You’ll Dance Alone” is another lovely piece. Many of the others tend to meander and get pretty out there.  She was well aware she was not mainstream.  As she sings on “Many Different Things”:  “There are many different things in this world that I hope you get to see/And then I won’t seem so strange to you.”

Anyway, to continue our story, Sandy soon became known as Essra Mohawk (Essra was a nickname, and she married musician/producer Frazier Mohawk), and something of a staple on ‘70s FM radio.   This is not the material Essra Mowhawk is known for and it’s all very demo-sounding.  But for this listener, the sustain-pedal-piano is all the accompaniment necessary.

The reissue contains one bonus track, “Life Is Scarlet,” a worthy song that was meant to be on the album in the first place.