There are probably thousands or more great records that have, for whatever reason, fallen through the cracks of history. Some are by obscure artists, and some by better known acts which have been unfairly overlooked. Then there are others that have a devoted cult following, but which are virtually unknown outside of their constituency. I thought I’d write about a few of them that I like. First up, Mimi and Richard Farina’s second and final record Reflections In A Crystal Wind.
Richard Farina was born in Brooklyn on March 8th 1937. He was an active member of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the late fifties and early sixties and was briefly married to Carolyn Hester (who is best known these days for the fact that Bob Dylan made his studio debut contributing harmonica to her third album). The pair divorced after Farina became involved with Joan Baez’s teenage sister Mimi. The two married in 1963 and moved out to California. They didn’t re-emerge on the scene until 1965 when they had their debut album, Celebrations For A Grey Day, issued by Vanguard. They got a spot on the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival, and were an immediate hit. Their annus mirabilis was completed by the release of Reflections In A Crystal Wind in December.
With Richard playing dulcimer and Mimi autoharp, the pair’s music had a slight eastern flavour, with the twangy drones of the instruments sounding more in tune with the markets of Marrakech than the blue hills of Kentucky. The second album saw their bluegrass influenced folk beefed up with the addition of a full band on many of the tracks – sometime Bob Dylan collaborator, guitarist Bruce Langhorne was particularly important to the sound of the album. Indeed, many of the band arrangements had strong echoes of Dylan’s own explorations of a folk-rock sound the same year. The final, crucial ingredient was the couple’s voices which sounded as natural together as, say, Simon and Garfunkel’s. Mimi’s was like a more earthy version of her sister Joan’s, not dissimilar sounding, in fact, to Gillian Welch. Richard’s tenor wasn’t as strong, but blended perfectly.
Highlights of Reflections In A Crystal Wind include the title track which is uncannily prescient of some of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ work. “House Un-American Blues Activity Dream” is a rocking, Dylan-like stream-of-consciousness protest song, and “Bold Marauder” a droney, proto-psychedelic piece that anticipated some of the more acoustic things that Jefferson Airplane came up with a couple of years later. It was covered by former Dream Syndicate bassist Kendra Smith on her 1995 4AD album Five Ways Of Disappearing (which was the starting point for my discovery of the Farinas). Closing track “Children Of Darkness” is a stunning ballad, and features what is perhaps the couple’s greatest vocal interplay.
Reflections Of A Crystal Wind seemed to open any number of possible directions that Richard and Mimi could take their music in. Alas, it was not to happen. On April 30th 1966, two days after the publication of Richard’s novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, he hitched a ride on the back of a friend’s motorbike. It crashed, allegedly doing 90mph at the time, and Richard was thrown off the back, dying instantly. It was Mimi’s 21st birthday.
The album is still in print. There is also an excellent compilation called Pack Up Your Sorrows which contains most of the couple’s material, including all but three tracks from the second record.
A1 Reflections in a Crystal Wind
A2 Bold Marauder
A4 A Swallow Song
A6 Sell-Out Agitation Waltz
A7 Hard-Loving Loser
B1 Mainline Prosperity Blues
B2 Allen’s Interlude
B3 House Un-American Blues Activity Dream
B4 Raven Girl
B6 Children of Darkness
Originally issued December 1965, Vanguard 79204
“Bold Marauder” with Pete Seeger looking like a proud dad – from a show called Rainbow Quest