Bridget St. John has a small legion of fans willing to do battle for their hero, but to most she sounds like a pleasant, secondary British folk-rock artist of the early 1970s. Those impressions won't be changed by this, her third album, mixing low-key originals with covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly, as well as one of her most popular tracks, an interpretation of the traditional folk tune "Lazarus." Simply put, St. John doesn't come within bow-and-arrow range of Sandy Denny or Maddy Prior. She favors a low, slightly husky delivery that sometimes brings to mind what Marianne Faithfull might have sounded like in the late '70s had Faithfull's voice lowered naturally, instead of being ravaged. Reserve can be effective, but it sounds like St. John would need to be roasted over an open flame before her temperature rose.
[The album was reissued on CD in 1995, with the addition of eight bonus tracks from a live performance in 1972.]
As can be expected with a collection that spans the years 1966 to 1971, a time when the stylistic curve changed by the month, Grapes of Wrath is wildly inconsistent. The music is certainly derivative, but the songs are fairly accomplished derivations, so much so that listening to the collection becomes an exercise in "pick the influence." "If Anyone Should Ask" pounds like a Dave Clark Five garage outtake (and, thus, not on a level with actual DC5); "Not a Man" is subpar "Mr. Tambourine Man folk-rock (and as the "in sound" of 1967, received considerable local airplay); "Irene" is an answer to the New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral" with a bit of Beatles and the Lovin' Spoonful thrown in; "Life's Not for Me (Only for You)" is a post-Revolver, sitar-singed raga dirge, completely of its time, but still enjoyable; and "If She Leaves Me" betrays debts, as does much of the recorded output here, to John Lennon. The Grapes of Wrath really began coming into their own as writers and musicians in 1968, reaching its undeniable early peak with "Have a Good Time on Me." Despite the wall of guitars that opens the song, "Have a Good Time on Me" is a fine piece of soulful pop/rock, like the Buckinghams without horns, but it is even more complex, adding a nice section in the middle as well as a coda coated in Beatles/Beach Boys harmonies. There was more decent music to follow, namely "Makin' It Through 71," a personal narrative on main songwriter Steve Whitehurst's difficult year (but also a walk through a Paul McCartney-styled, late-Beatles rocker) and "Shades of Lillian White," which marries the pretty acoustic work of George Harrison and McCartney circa White Album and Let It Be. But even those were disjointed in parts, as the band began fracturing. Grapes of Wrath won't change anyone's world, but it is a visible window into the changing face of pop music during the Vietnam era.
Michio Kurihara's sublime solo debut is an impressionist concept record that refracts the golden radiance of the magic hour, its nine songs drawing inspiration from nine different sunsets spanning across the calendar year. A largely instrumental effort, Sunset Notes is foremost a showcase for Kurihara's remarkable guitar work -- his leads soar like exotic birds in flight, brilliantly evoking the moods and colors of the solitary moments in time the songs capture.