Essra Mohawk / Primordial Lovers
Collector’s Choice Music
In the singer-songwriter universe, some stars burn brighter than others. One of the dimmer, yet still intriguing illuminations is Essra Mohawk, a woman discovered and ultimately abused by Frank Zappa. Originally recording as Sandy Hurvitz, she married, picked up a more interesting nickname, and cut two additional albums in the early ’70s. While her debut was little better than a demo, these albums found more professional treatment and they better testify to the freewheeling musical culture of the era – drop a stinker album with no sales and no critical acclaim today, and see how long your website stays up. In these two more refined discs, we discover a woman with an intriguing voice and a cluttered, yet attractive arranging style. Her Primordial Lovers is filled with smoky vocals set off by professional studio musicians. “Spiral” could be a sober and clean Janis Joplin, while “Looking Toward the Dawn” sounds more like Joni Mitchell unplugged. Other cuts have a slow jazzy vibe, and the five bonus cuts return to the stripped down lamenting vocals of her first effort.
Four years later (1974) she released a self-titled album with a Maxfield Parrish-style cover. It has a more rocking feel, thanks to her new producer (Tom Sellers) who allowed her to make an album closer to what she had in mind. That’s an important tension in all creative fields, and it can go either way – an experienced producer can pull unexpected glory out of an artist just as easily as he can squander a naïve but innovative idea. On this disc, the backing vocals are more complex and the arrangements are louder, forcing Essra’s voice to compete for your attention. While Primordial Lovers leans toward the woman’s relation with her men, Essra Mowhawk leans in a more feminist direction. “Full Fledged Woman” tells us men are fun and occasionally useful, but they are no longer what she needs to define herself. We find an upbeat but still dreamy “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Her favorite number (and possibly her best) wraps up the original disc – “Magic Pen” talks about faith and writing, and has a building, throbbing intensity that threatens to make it a Broadway show tune. This disc has two bonuses as well, and while they are more similar to her previous effort, they still show her as a competent, confident recording artist with clear songwriting and arranging skills. While the Billboard charts did quite well without Ms. Mohawk, the material here is as strong as anything on the Oldies rotation. If you’re seeking to expand your artist knowledge base without having to develop an ear for something you don’t currently enjoy, Essra Mohawk is a good compromise.
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