Reviews of Music from Living on the Earth

MFLOTE cover at 96 dpi

Review on http://www.allmusic.com
by Stanton Swihart
February, 2001

Rating: 4.5 stars out of a possible 5

The debut recording from Alicia Bay Laurel comes after a 30-year apprenticeship in everything from folk to jazz, Brazilian, and Hawaiian music (in addition to a career as an acclaimed author and illustrator), and it is a beautiful and rejuvenating catharsis of a record. It is a thankful piece of work, refreshing and pure, full of sweet naiveté but also a kind of undiluted wisdom and a strong sense of self-awareness, best exemplified by one song, “Oh Sweet Self.” The songs were written in Laurel’s commune days, during which she was writing the original version of her bestseller Living on the Earth, chiefly between 1968 and 1975. All but one of the songs, though, were recorded over a two-month period at the beginning of 2000 by Laurel with just her guitar playing as accompaniment. As simple as the pleasures of the music are, however, this is not simple music. This is a quintessentially folk album, but not a standard one. It betrays strong elements of jazz and even hints of gospel, and Laurel displays some fabulously fingerpicked acoustic blues passages throughout, especially on songs like “Chard & Chives,” the jazzy autobiography-in-song “Nineteen Sixty-Six,” and the instrumental “Sky Blues.” In addition, the influence of Indian culture shows up not only in the classical “Vai Raga” but also in the folk-raga hybrid instrumental of “Waterwheel” and some of the leitmotifs of “Mandala.” Many of the songs utilize tricky and unconventional open and modal tunings, all expertly managed by Laurel. The songs stand well on their own, but work even better as complements to and invocations of Living on the Earth. Lyrically, there is a concerted slant towards the communal/hippie themes that were so endemic to the period during which all the songs were written: love, nature, freedom, understanding, spirituality, compassion, voluntary simplicity. “Chard & Chives,” for instance, is an innocent ode to gardening that soon extends to the larger ideals of living in and with nature, and then to the importance of growing into one’s life. The wonderful “Hang Out & Breathe” offers gentle rural charms and serves as a sort of folk meditation on Ram Dass’ tenet, “Be here now.” And the a cappella “Rain” is a straightforward celebration of the cleansing properties of the title subject. But these ideals also happen to be universal themes, many of them still, unfortunately, lacking in the world, rendering the songs just as relevant as the day on which they were composed. The album appropriately closes with the 40-voice choir version of “In the Morning” recorded live in the 1970s by the Occidental Community Choir from choral arrangements made by friend, mentor, and avant-garde composer Ramon Sender. The solo folk version that opens the album is a gorgeous awakening to our common humanity, and a lovely way to bring the music to commencement. But when the 40 voices join in the end, the song turns into a transcendent prayer. It seems to break from its strictures, wander out into the early light of day, and mingle with the living earth where it can breath, before rising up toward the heavens, a gift. Many of the songs on Music From Living On The Earth, in fact, seem like small, tranquil gifts. [The album is available from the artist’s website, http://www.aliciabaylaurel.com.] — Stanton Swihart

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Review by “Psyche Van Het Folk” radio host and webmaster Gerald Van Waes in Antwerp, Belgium
November, 2005

In 1971, Alicia was in her twenties when she started to live in a hippie commune, and had published a kind of handbook for hippies wanting to live in nature and enjoy a child-like innocence and joy. The book, now in reprint- contains charming drawings and became a successful bestseller. Between 1968 and 1975 she wrote additional songs for it, which were all but one, recorded in 2000.
The music has an underlying similar kind of deliberate naivety to enjoy life with a certain practical minimalism, which is feminine, charming and lovely. The songs are short. The stylistic folk simplicities just here and there (like on “In the Morning”) are completely forgivable or still suitable because of its strong inner sweetness, which works like a winking eye to inner wish for love, and which still works as a ode to life. There has been attention to some variety in guitar playing. There are also stylistic surprises, like original bluesy interpretations, or an open tuning track called “Vai raga” with Indian flavour, or a 40 voice choir interpretation of the opening track as a perfect closer.

This is a very nice and lovely album which is suitable for repeated listening experiences and which grows with each listen. (I discovered this album through a Japanese collectorÂ’s list of psychedelic folk). The album itself is like a resume of one lifeÂ’s experience in a certain world of existence.

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Review on Rumbles at Terrascope.co.uk, March 2007

On the trail of eye-gobbling line illustrations, thereÂ’s some rather attractive ones to be found on the ‘Music for Living on EarthÂ’ CD by Alicia Bay Laurel (on EM Records) – in fact, they remind me for some strange reason of the work of Tim Hunkin, whose drawings in colour supplements described, in easy to follow steps, the workings of everyday objects such as the photocopier, the fax machine, etc. The front cover of AliciaÂ’s debut though favours more symbolic and mystical images as centre stage is occupied by a naiad / dryad figure with a sun rising behind her. Born into an artistic, freethinking household to a surgeon father and a sculptor mother, AliciaÂ’s teen rites of musical passage included numerous coffee house gigs in the Bay Area (thatÂ’s San Francisco, not Cardiff – ed.) bolstered by guitar lessons from her cousin JanetÂ’s husband – a certain Mr John Fahey. What better guitar tutor could a girl want? 

However, Alicia’s first real entry into the counter-culture world came in 1970 with her ‘Living in the Earth’, a guidebook for the ‘Back to the Land’ movement which sold a total of 350,000 copies. Nearly 30 years later the ‘Music…’ LP was released to roughly tie in with the book’s updated reprint. By then she’d moved to Maui (I wonder if she ever met any of the members of Mu?) and it’s really no big surprise that Hawaii’s unhurried and relaxed way of life permeates the album’s very essence. Given that the material was recorded in the winter of 2000, I’d guess that these numbers were written back in the day, as the lyrical concerns – achieving illumination through nature (‘Thanksgiving Hymn’. ‘Chard & Chives’) and investigations into eastern mysticism (‘Mandala’, the Magic Carpet-like ‘Vai Raga’ and ‘Rimpoche’) certainly seem to point in that direction. If only the budget could’ve been stretched to major label style expenditure on the latter cut – it’s tailor-made for a big old penguin-suited orchestra sawing away. I’ll just have to imagine that. Nevertheless, it’s still the strongest piece and has a melodic waft that is both beguiling and melancholic in ways travelled by Ruth Ann Friedman and Britain’s great lost Jaki
Whitren.  Equally ear-pleasing bouquets come in the form of the ‘WaterwheelÂ’ instrumental, its casual elegance no doubt making her former guitar teacherÂ’s chest fill with pride, and ‘RainÂ’ which captures a wistful solo voice caught in a torrential downpour of H20. One last point of interest concerns ‘In the MorningÂ’, a madrigal replete with handy skincare tips, such as “itÂ’s years of cold washing that prevents old age”, which has a second and more unusual version sung by The Occidental Community Choir, the original vocal score being devised by Ramon Sender of the San Francisco Tape Machine Center (home to Terry Riley, Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros et al), whose reactivated ‘WorldfoodÂ’ CD (on Locust) remains a must-have for all fans of (super)looped out experimentation.  Back to Alicia Bay Laurel for a tick: there are two other CDs released under her name, ‘Living in Hawaii StyleÂ’ and ‘What LivingÂ’s all AboutÂ’ – see her website at www.aliciabaylaurel.com for further information.

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Review on Amazon.com
by Pam Hanna
November 19, 2001

A Kaleidoscope of Musical Colors

Many-colored songs from Alicia Bay Laurel’s popular book (now in its second edition) “Living on the Earth” is a one-woman show. Just as she writes and illustrates her book, she accompanies herself on guitar and even harmonizes with herself in such pieces as “Vai Raga” with the lovely musical effects of D-modal tuning (illustrated in the line-notes). The combination of a voice as pure and clear as a waterfall and deliciously resonant guitar chords twang the consciousness nicely. Instrumentals are mellow and soothing (“Waterfall”).

There is a fair amount of philosophy and social observation here. “I’m gonna blossom in my own care./ Gonna give myself the time that I need./ Gonna pick a blossom, put it in my waving hair/ And let the blooming flowers go to seed.” And, “The city trip of being hip/ And paying lip service to law/. First was fun, but then the sun/ Went away and I had to give/. You must pay/ for the way/ you live.” And “Experiences endlessly follow each other/ Let them go by, you’ll see as the world turns/ Each one teaches you that God is your lover./

…As well as one autobiographical tune “1966” – with cool West-Coast modern chords.

But the most striking and memorable song on the album, in my opinion, is “In the Morning.” Reminiscent of simple Shaker words and tune, a quilt spreads out before your eyes. First sung by Alicia with her guitar and then at the end by the Occidental Community Choir (Ramon Sender did the arrangement and directed the choir). “Rise ye early by morning’s dew/, And wash out your mouth and the rest of ye, too/. Don’t take ye no worry if the water’s too cold/ It’s years of cold washing that prevents growing old.”

“In the morning, in the morning/ With the first light ye rise/ And keep your mouth closed/ And open your eyes./ In the morning, in the morning/ When the first light is new/ Come rise ye and roll ye/ In the sweet morning dew./

A rainbow of an album. Well worth it.

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Review on Amazon.com
By Tracy Dove-Coppen
January 12, 2002

Magical and Beautiful and Pure!

When you hear the sweet, pure voice of Alicia Bay Laurel and her music, fragrant with innocence and simplicity, her songs will become a part of your own heart song. The entire cd is so delightful and wonderful. She plays the guitar beautifully and skillfully. The lyrics and music flow together creating a joyful awareness of the earth and our place in it. This CD is a magical celebration of living on the earth.

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Review from Ladyslipper Catalogue:
September, 2000

In 1971, at the age of 21, Alicia Bay Laurel saw her first book, Living On the Earth, become a NY Times bestseller as well as a counterculture classic that inspired thousands to live more simply and self-sufficiently. Lauded as possibly “the best book in this catalog” by the Whole Earth Catalog, it served as the inspiration for the new large-format, hand-illustrated style employed by editions such as Anne Kent Rush’s Massage Book and Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. If you have fond memories of this wonderful book (still in print in its 30th Anniversary Revised Edition), you’ll thoroughly enjoy this collection of 17 original free-spirited songs written when the book was first published. Using various guitar tunings reminiscent of John Fahey’s work (which Alicia learned from John himself, a family member), she accompanies songs like Invocation, Chard & Chives, Mandala, Lullaby, Rinpoche, Hang Out & Breathe and many more. A great gift for a friend or loved one with whom you may have shared this optimistic and revolutionary book and era.

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Press Release:

Music From Living On The Earth

Sixteen original folk songs, performed by the songwriter, sung with finger-picked guitar accompaniment, often in open tunings reminiscent of the work of John Fahey. Fahey was married to Alicia’s cousin, Janet Lebow, when Alicia was a teen, and he taught her tunings and fingerpicking. The songs are about nature, gardening, non-religious spirituality, the life Alicia led while writing her best-selling manual for bohemian style country living, Living On The Earth. While the book became a bible for an entire social movement of the early ‘seventies, the songs Alicia wrote became part of the folk culture of the commune, Wheeler Ranch in Sonoma County, California, where she lived. It wasn’t until much later, when the book was published in a thirtieth anniversary revised edition, that Alicia recorded her songs from that time. During eight months on the road promoting the book, she performed 75 shows of her one-woman play, Living On The Earth: The Musical, which was based on her life’s adventures, and included seven of the songs from the CD.

The CD booklet is completely handlettered and illustrated with AliciaÂ’s drawings, in the style of the book for which it is named, and is, of course, printed with soy inks on 100% post-consumer-waste recycled paper. The song list includes the tunings for each song. The seventeenth and final song is a reprise of the first, performed by a forty-voice a cappella choir recorded in 1991.

Alicia studied piano for five years before taking up the guitar at age 12, giving her the advantage of having some music theory and fingers that moved independently. She began writing songs early in her ‘teens, and continues to this day. She has studied guitar and vocal technique intermittently throughout her life, and, after learning the host of popular tunes that comprise the bread and butter of a working vocal/guitar soloists’ repertoire, began working professionally as a musician at age 35. She was 50 when she made this, her first recording. To return to her original music, with its strong spiritual base, has been a rebirth for Alicia.

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Letter from Nick Alva, whose musical “MorningStar Idyll” features songs from “Music from Living on the Earth”

Dear Alicia,

On the 29th of September we are going to be doing a performance of  ‘MorningStar Idyll’ in Occidental in addition to the performance on the 30th. We have a cast of twelve including Steve Fowler as “Lou”. We have 14 songs including ones by Wilder Bentley, Lou Gottlieb and  Ramon Sender. And we are doing some by you including the ‘Thanksgiving Song’. It will be gear
ed as a 40th year celebration and Lou’s birthday. This will be the birth of the MorningStar musical. I hope that I can meet you while you are up in the area. My best to you and I want to tell you that your music is really quite wonderful and it is a joy to be collaborating and presenting these songs. All three of my sons run around and hum the ‘Thanksgiving Song’, even my two year old.


Nick

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