Richard & Mimi Fariņa:
Reflections in a Crystal Wind
Vanguard (VSD 79204) December 1965.
Re-issued on CD in 1995.
Cover photo by Dan Kramer.
Running time: 49:38
8. MAINLINE PROSPERITY BLUES 6:26
with Bruce Langhorne, Russ Savakus, Charles Small, piano, John Hammond, Alvin Rogers
9. ALLEN'S INTERLUDE (Instr.) 2:55
with Bruce Langhorne
10. HOUSE UN-AMERICAN BLUES ACTIVITY DREAM 3:10
with Bruce Langhorne, Russ Savakus, Charles Small, John Hammond, Alvin Rogers
11. RAVEN GIRL 5:10
with Bruce Langhorne & Felix Pappalardi
12. MILES (Instr.) 2:55
Richard Fariņa, dulcimer & Mimi Fariņa, guitar
13. CHILDREN OF DARKNESS 4:05
with Bruce Langhorne, Charles Small, celesta
Mimi & Richard Fariņa
accompanying themselves on guitar (Mimi) and dulcimer (Richard)
Bruce Langhorne, electric guitar & tambourine
Charles Small, piano, electric piano & celesta
John Hammond, harmonica
Alvin Rogers, drums
Russ Savakus, string & electric bass
Felix Pappalardi, electric bass
Their second album, released eight months after the first, found the Fariņas steering their unique sound in a more bluesy, rock-driven direction. This album was released in the same month as the Beatles' eclectic Rubber Soul and the Byrds' second album, Turn, Turn, Turn! Meanwhile, The Who and the Yardbirds were beginning to assert their harder, edgier sound across the Atlantic. Eclecticism and bold musical experimentation electrified the airwaves, and the Fariņas' wonderfully varied second album reflected the Protean flux of those times. (See the Timeline.)
Although they never used a sitar, the Fariņas' instrumentals on guitar and dulcimer often have a Middle Eastern flavor, subtler and harder to pin down than the sitar doodling on the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." That Middle Eastern sound comes from the dulcimer, which often uses a variety of modal tunings that antedate the standardization of the musical scales in the Renaissance. These modal tunings give the dulcimer the exotic, gamey flavors that so often strike the modern listener as foreign. The Fariņas also delighted in improvisation and acceleration, and this too added to the Indian sound (Richard's interest in Ravi Shankar is also evident in Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.)
The most powerful song on this album is "Bold Marauder," a chilling dramatic monologue that keeps one guessing as to who or what the Bold Marauder is as the stark, gruesome lyrics enumerate his atrocities. Richard's album notes hint that the Bold Marauder may represent the Ku Klux Klan ("under cover of hood and cause"), while on Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest TV show he said that the marauder was "anybody who feels that because they have the various gods and presidents on their side, they can send their armies marauding over the earth." The lyrics themselves, however, transcend such particulars: the poet musters all his literary powers to portray the marauder in monstrously mythic dimensions that make him seem as ancient as evil itself. "A Swallow Song" and "Raven Girl" also abound in symbolism, searching desolate seas and landscapes to find some reflection of emotions too anguished to be expressed directly.
In the middle of the album, between the allegorical songs and the romantic confessionals that open and close the set, we find wordier, satirical songs: "Sell-Out Agitation Waltz," "Hard-Loving Loser," Mainline Prosperity Blues," and "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream" (even some of the titles are wordy!). Dylan had released Bringing It All Back Home in March of that year, a month before the Fariņas' first album, and had followed up that remarkable achievement with Highway 61 Revisited in August. Dylan's new style, full of frenetically-paced lyrics exploding with symbolism, may have prompted Fariņa to cut back on instrumentals (there were seven on the first album, only four on this one) to let the novelist in him speak out. Some of Fariņa's funniest songs appear here, witty character sketches fleshed out with revealing details, modern-day folktales on the absurdities, hypocrisies and neuroses of a beaurocratic and conformist society. Songs like these provide the closest link to Fariņa the folksinger and Fariņa the novelist, and although the Dylan influence is detectable, it should be remembered that Fariņa had published stories and was working on his novel before Dylan became famous. Both Dylan and Fariņa were working within a common folk inheritance, though both were stretching that tradition like silly putty to see who could twist it into the new-fangledest shapes.
The only weak spot on this album is "Mainline Prosperity Blues," a six-minute slow blues pastiche which recreates the desultory mood of drug withdrawal a little too successfully. Its counter-culture sentiments are expressed with more verve and less ennui on the brisker songs on the album.
Another complaint is that Mimi's exquisite, subtle guitar playing is drowned out in some of the numbers that have a full electric band. I was hoping that the remastered Complete Vanguard Recordings box set might redress the situation, but it didn't. (However, the box set does include live, pared down versions of some the electric songs on Reflections, and these remind us of how rich and exciting Richard and Mimi could sound as an acoustic duo.)
Despite these few complaints, this album is an undisputed classic. The mixture of exotic instrumentals and soaring harmonies, romantic lyrics and haunting allegories, and satirical ballads that capture sixties America in all its technicolor absurdity, make Reflections in a Crystal Wind one of the most variegated and delightful albums of the era, when the deep mighty river of folk and the foaming rapids of rock clashed and merged into one, with all the twisting, churning charm of a new genre being born.
1.) The CD reissue included a note not on the LP:
"All the ensemble arrangements were done in conjunction with Bruce Langhorne."
2.) The LP included a photo on the back by Suzanne Szasz that was not included on the CD re-issue.
3.) The LP also had a note on Richard's forthcoming novel and a few blurbs from reviews of their previous album:
"Fariņa is a song writer and poet who has great potential."Next Album: Memories
San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle
"Talents like these are never long hidden. Mimi and Richard Fariņa who accompany themselves on dulcimer, guitar, and autoharp, sing ballads as fresh as newsprint but more poetic."
"Celebrations for a Grey Day brings Richard Fariņa with an outstanding dulcimer style and the solid support of his wife Mimi at the guitar and autoharp... consistently good instrumental music."