Sister Kate’s Lost Treasure

Originally posted April 2, 2007

It’s sometimes too easy, more than thirty-five years distant, to poke fun at and/or dismiss the singer-songwriter wave that took over much of pop music in the early 1970s.

As I’ve indicated before – in my comments on Jimmie Spheeris – I have a soft spot for the post-hippie west coast singer-songwriter vibe, likely because the years during which much of that music was released were my high school and early college years. (By the time I left college – having been there on the six-year plan – the airways and jukeboxes were beginning to fill with arena rock and disco; it was clearly time to move on.) But having a soft spot in my heart for singer-songwriter music doesn’t negate the fact that there were a lot of singer-songwriters whose work doesn’t stand up very steadily with the passage of time, no matter how much fun it might have been to hear it coming out of the speakers at the time of its release.

As I write that comment, my mind flashes on Jonathan Edwards and 1971’s “Sunshine,” which is likely the best example of what I’m talking about here. It was fun, it was certainly a hit, and it brings a wry smile to my face when it pops up on the RealPlayer. But is that what I’d like a neophyte to think was representative of  pop/rock music in the early to mid-1970s? I recall the 1976 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide labeling Edwards “the most unctuously dumb of the hippie singer/songwriters.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but his work is fairly lightweight, and I don’t think it stands well today. And that’s okay; not much stands too tall thirty-some years down the line. I look at the list of releases from 1971 – whether singer-songwriter or any other genre – in any of my reference books, and very few of them had much staying power. (The exceptions, of course, are the perennials like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Allman Brothers Band, the Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell, to name a few.)

That’s what makes the work of the Taylor siblings – James, Livingston and Kate – remarkable. James has had the more notable career, certainly, but Livingston and Kate have had well-regarded releases of their own, if not on so regular a basis. (Another sibling, Alex, went the southern rock route and recorded five albums before his death in 1993, two of them well-regarded releases on Capricorn in the early 1970s.) And 1971 saw all three of the singer-songwriter Taylors release music that still resonates today.

James released Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, one of the classics of the genre. Livingston released Liv, an album that, after I listened to it last week, holds up better than I thought it would. And Kate released the aptly titled Sister Kate, which has become if not a classic then at least a highly regarded – and difficult to find – piece of work.

Technically, Sister Kate does not belong in the singer-songwriter genre, as Taylor wrote none of the album’s twelve titles. And that distance between writer and performer seems to limit her effectiveness at times. The record’s highlights, to me, are “Handbags and Gladrags,” which is one of my favorite songs, as well as the two Carole King numbers, “Home Again” and “Where You Lead,” and the Jerry Ragovoy/Mort Shuman tune, “Look at Granny Run, Run.” The rest of the record is not bad, by any means, but Taylor sometimes doesn’t seem up to the demands of interpretation the material requires. It’s worth remembering, on the other hand, that she was no older than twenty-two when she recorded Sister Kate, and if she was unable at the time to match the interpretive skills of her brother James, well, not many singers can. The record is a quality piece of work, one of the true lost treasures.

The record was produced by Peter Asher, who gathered around her a shining group of musicians: her brothers James plays some guitar, of course, and family friend Carole King provides work on the piano as well as on background vocals. Others who took part include the top session musicians Los Angeles: Danny Kootch on guitar, Leland Sklar on bass and Russ Kunkel on drums, among others; the background vocalists include Linda Ronstadt and Merry Clayton, and the Memphis Horns drop in for “Look at Granny Run, Run.”

The album was released on CD, says All-Music Guide, but with no date listed. No copies seem to be available at the standard online locations. The LP is available through retailers listed at GEMM, with prices ranging from less than $10 to more than $80.

Track listing:
Home Again
Ballad of a Well Known Gun
Be That Way
Handbags & Gladrags
You Can Close Your Eyes
Look at Granny Run, Run
Where You Lead
White Lightning
Country Comfort
Lo and Behold/Jesus Is Just All Right
Do I Still Figure In Your Life?
Sweet Honesty

Kate Taylor – Sister Kate  [1971]

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One Response to “Sister Kate’s Lost Treasure”

  1. Alex Taylor Brings His Friends & Neighbors « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] Slim and the Blue Horizon. During 1971, Livingston Taylor released Liv and Kate Taylor released Sister Kate, both of which are fine albums, perhaps not with the reach and polish of their brother’s work, […]

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