‘Milk Of The Tree: An Anthology Of Female Vocal Folk & Singer-Songwriters 1966-1973’ reviewed

❉ A female folk Nuggets, from one of music’s most fertile periods.

The music business could never be referred to as a woman’s world. There’s always been an inherent boy’s club to try and push through. Soberingly in 2017, we’re still, despite some major leaps forward, not really there yet – no matter how much we tell ourselves that we’re a more equal society in general. As with any job, any shift in the balance of gender equality is only relative. The power and influence of female artists in the business has been hard-won, and remains a work-in-progress.

Milk of the Tree, from Cherry Red aims to redress the balance retrospectively, at least in terms of representation. It’s a thoughtfully-selected 3 disc collection of female-fronted material of a folky bent from 1966-73, the period when female artists arguably began to benefit, at least artistically from one of music’s most fertile periods.

It’s got some wonderful music on it, but the period that Milk of the Tree is drawn from means it’s necessary to bend the brief a little and include the guys, albeit in supporting roles. Thus alongside singer-songwriters like Joan Baez, Melanie, Janis Ian, Laura Nyro, Joan Armatrading, Sandy Denny or Judee Sill, we have the likes of Pentangle, John and Beverly Martyn, Trader Horne (with original Fairport singer Judy Dyble and ex-Them guitarist Jackie McAuley), and the Sallyangie, with a teenage Mike Oldfield supporting older sis Sally. Puritans might scoff at this creep of scope, but these tracks enrich Milk of the Tree, and you can’t deny Pentangle’s old favourite Light Flight, or the horizontal swoop of the Martyns’ Bev-fronted Auntie Aviator.

As a collection, the scope of the set is impressive, with Cherry Red mining their considerable archives to cover winsome balladry, political finger-pointing, Laurel Canyon introspection, even psych and prog. For every gentle Mary Hopkin, there’s a politicised Lesley Duncan.  Super Furry Animals fans may also recognise the ethereal The Sea by Wendy and Bonnie due to SFA’s outright lift of it for the intro to Hello Sunshine.

The more out-there stuff on offer includes Mellow Candle’s Feeling High,Flying Away by The Serpent Power, and the startlingly grisly prog-folk murder ballad of Mr Fox’s self-titled Mr Fox. There’s also some great tunes crossing over from the poppier end of things from Jackie DeShannon (Come and stay with me), Linda Ronstadt’s Stone Poneys (Different Drum), and Marianne Faithfull (Something Better). It’s only really Nico’s Chelsea Girls that’s reaching a bit, and doesn’t sit quite right here.

Milk of the Tree is a female folk Nuggets then, and you can spent an inordinate amount of time spotting famous solo singers in early guises, such as a young Carly Simon as part of The Simon Sisters, whose Who Has Seen The Wind is endearingly earnest, and unrecognisable as the voice behind You’re So Vain, Nobody Does It Better, or Why. Simon’s presence might have gone unnoticed if not for the beautifully illustrated sleeve notes, which are easy to get lost in.

Also playing against type is Dana Gillespie’s sultry Foolish Dreams, recorded in her teens, before her parallel careers as blues shouter and pneumatic pin-up took off, and sounding like a folksier Nancy Sinatra. This kind of obscure nugget is exactly what this sort of collection is designed for, and Milk of the Tree is full of gems.

❉ ‘Milk Of The Tree: An Anthology Of Female Vocal Folk & Singer-Songwriters 1966-1973’ (CRSEGBOX039) was released June 30, 2017 by Cherry Red Records. RRP £17.99

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