Lotta hair

You know her, even if you don’t know it.

You know her voice.

If you have listened to Emmylou Harris’s albums, Luxury Liner and Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, or Neil Young’s Comes a Time, American Stars and Bars and Rust Never Sleeps, or the Doobie Brothers’ Minute by Minute, or a whole stack of albums and singles by Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver, Christopher Cross and other luminaries of country-rock-pop in the 1970s, then you know her voice.

Nicolette Larson was an aspiring folk singer in San Francisco who got some singing work which lead to other work, and in time she attracted the attention of Neil Young, and from that became a star backing vocalist. On everyone’s records. Which is nice – hey, I’d take it – but of course she wanted a solo career.

It started well, with this album.

The first single from it, the Neil Young composition “Lotta Love”, was a huge hit, a soft rock masterpiece. (Yes, oh sneering trendoids, there is such a thing. On Planet Vinyl at any rate.) Larson’s version of “You Send Me” also did well. But if you were expecting, and I admit that I was, an LP full of the same kind of thing – well it isn’t. It is an eclectic mix. A bit of soft rock, a bit of R’n’B, a song in French in waltz time, and some hardcore bluegrass gospel.larson

Larson’s story, at least from this album on, is a sad one. After her initial success with this record, she never quite caught the flame again. Continued singing, alone and behind others, but she was on a downward path. She died of liver failure in 1997, aged only 45. Fair to suggest, I think, that liver failure so young suggests a lifestyle neither happy nor healthy.

I knew nothing of any of this. I remembered “Lotta Love” from the radio in the 1970s. I did not remember the name, but I do remember seeing her on television and thinking that she had an awful lotta hair.

This album is not a masterpiece. It’s good, sometimes brilliant, but like Larson’s musical journey more generally, it somehow falls just a little sort of its promise. I can relate to that. So can most of us. None of that changes two core truths.

First, Nicolette Larson had the voice of an angel. Second, she was brave. It is precisely that much of this LP sounds nothing like “Lotta Love” which I admire. This track, “Angels Rejoiced” is a hokey bluegrass gospel number first released in 1957. Larson performs it as a duet with Herb Pederson, and somehow this temperance-pamphlet morality play of a song acquires a delicate magic. Just imagine a coked-up Warner Bros exec railing against including this track on the album of a singer they hoped would be major star.

Angels rejoice.

  • Artist: Nicolette Larson
  • LP Title: Nicolette
  • Track: Side 2, Track 3 “Angels Rejoiced”
  • Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Warner BSK 3243
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1978

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