Patti Dahlstrom Takes Her Second Shot

Originally posted April 9, 2008

I’ve been stumbling around for about an hour, trying to figure out what to say about Patti Dahlstrom’s second album, The Way I Am.

The record came out in 1973, and from the distance of thirty-five years, I see Patti as being in the middle of three categories of musicians, spread across a continuum. First, on one end, are the folks who struggled and worked and sent out demos and – in today’s parlance – networked their tails off and never got a chance, never got the right folks to listen, never got into the studio on anything other than their own dimes.

On the far end are those who made it, some for a short time and some permanently. These are the folks who had one or two or many hits, sold singles and albums and, at the very least, pop up regularly on oldies radio and spark a smile for the recollections of a summertime moment long ago.

In the middle are those who got their chances. They got into the studios, made one or two or four records and had some singles released. But through mismanagement, through misfortune, through missed opportunities, through simple mischance, they had no hits, they had no best-sellers and soon they were out of chances. They stayed in L.A., they went back home, they went someplace new; they gave up, they kept their music for themselves, or they moved on.

I see Patti Dahlstrom in that middle group. (And I have no idea which group is larger, the ones who never get a chance or the ones who do and then move on. I’m reasonably certain that the third group – those who make it in even the most minimal sense – is much, much smaller than the other two.) Patti came to L.A. from Houston, recorded four albums between 1972 and 1976 and then left the scene.

That was, of course, more than thirty years ago. As I mentioned when I posted her first album here last month, I’ve seen reports that have her teaching in her home town of Houston and that have her living in London. It’s unimportant – though it would be interesting – to know where she’s at now. But it’s interesting to consider where she might have been.

Artie Wayne, a long-time performer and producer, interviewed Russ Regan, a man of similar background, in 2006 for the website Spectropop (which bills itself as “The website about Phil Spector, Wall of Sound, Brill Building, Girl Groups, West Coast . . .” something or other). During that interview, Regan says:

“Wow! Patti Dahlstrom, who I love, had her first album with me at Uni and she did three more albums when I went over to 20th Century Fox. You know, in my career there are two female singer/songwriters who I signed, that should’ve been stars, Patti Dahlstrom and Harriet Shock.”

I’ve never heard of Harriet Shock, but then, until about two months ago, I’d never heard of Patti Dahlstrom, either.

Regan’s comment came in response to a statement about Patti from Wayne, asking Regan, “Did you know that I got her to write the English lyric to a French song by Veronique Sanson that eventually became her first 20th Century Fox release?”

That song was “Emotion,” and it was released as a single from Patti’s second album, The Way I Am, which came out in 1973. I’ve found no indication that the single made a dent in any chart at the time. (I wonder what the ratio of singles released to singles that make the Top 100 was in 1973; it must have been very high.)

As on the earlier album, Patti got writing credit for all ten songs on The Way I Am, sharing that credit with Severin Browne on six of them. On her first album, Patti Dahlstrom, Browne was credited specifically with writing the music for those songs on which he received credit. I think one can assume the same here, which means the lyrics are all Patti’s, including the English translation for “Emotion.”

The three songs that are credited as solely Patti’s compositions are: “I Promised,” “Give Him Time” and “For Everybody’s Sake.”

It’s not a bad album, but I don’t think it’s quite as good as her first one. It seems more based in mid-range tempos than was Patti Dahlstrom, with only “High Noon Alibis” breaking loose at all, although if Browne wrote the music for six of the second album’s ten tracks, that might fall at his feet. There is still the echo of Carole King about the album, which is not a bad echo to have. Sadly, the jacket contains no credits save listing Michael J. Jackson and Michael Omartian as producers. Given that, one can reasonably assume that Omartian plays piano and other keyboards, and it’s the piano that, to me, lends a lot of that Carole King-ian flavor.

Highlights? I like “I Promised” a lot, especially lyrically. “High Noon Alibis” moves along nicely with what sounds like a Dobro or steel guitar providing some accents. “Cleveland Snow” has some nice wordplay. “Emotion” is a sweeping song and a good choice for the single, no matter how it fared in the marketplace. “Then I Lose You” starts with an odd, angular guitar figure – one that repeats on occasion – that sounds like something from Steely Dan and morphs into melancholy with a sweet organ wash in the background. There is a flute solo on “The Way I Am,” and a stunning saxophone solo on “Innate” that make me think that – as he did on Patti Dahlstrom – Jim Horn stopped by.

Throughout the album, Patti’s distinctive, smoky voice and occasionally odd diction add unique elements that help the record hold one’s interest. As I said, it’s not quite as good as her first record, but The Way I Am is still pretty good.

(There’s more surface sound and little pops on this one than there were in the rip of Patti’s first album. Hard to avoid, I guess, when dealing with vinyl that’s thirty-five years old.)

Track listing:
I’ll Come Home
I Promised
The Way I Am
High Noon Alibis
Cleveland Snow
Emotion
Give Him Time
Then I Lose You
Innate
For Everybody’s Sake

Patti Dahlstrom – The Way I Am [1973]

Afternote:
While crawling around on the Net after posting the album, I found a credit list for The Way I Am at a site – based in Italy – called West Coast Music. The album had Jim Gordon and Gary Mallaber on drums; Jack Conrad, Leland Sklar and Bryan Garfalo on bass; Dean Parks, Larry Carlton, David Spinozza, David Lindley and Ned Doheny on guitar; Craig Doerge and Michael Omartian on  piano; Michael Utley on organ; Tom Scott and Clarence McDonald on horns; and Don Dunn on background vocals.

That’s quite a list of talent there. Among the interesting things is the presence of Don Dunn, evidently the same Don Dunn who was a co-writer of “Hitchcock Railway,” which I featured the other day. As I’ve said before, small circles indeed.

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