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Darkness Into Light

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Album Review

Priscilla Herdman gave birth to a daughter in 1985, and Darkness into Light, her fourth album, definitely bears the influence of her experience of motherhood. As usual, her role as a songwriter is limited: she adds some lines to Bruce "Utah" Phillips' "I Remember Loving You," which he performs as a duet with her, and sets Sojourner Truth's 1851 "Ain't I a Woman" speech to music. But the material she has chosen to record continually refers to mothers and children, even as she hews to the same sorts of works that have attracted her in the past. For example, she devoted much of her first album, The Water Lily (1977), to musical treatments of poems by the Australian poet Henry Lawson (1867-1922), and she adds one more here, "When the Children Come Home." It isn't actually about children; it's about an old ranch woman who has been widowed and abandoned by her children, but who still expects them back. Similarly, Judy Small (another name familiar to those who have Herdman's earlier albums) contributes an Australian story, "From the Lambing to the Wool," the autobiographical account of another old ranch woman whose children have grown and left, but who doesn't seem quite as badly off as Lawson's. Lorraine Lee's "Rockin' in a Weary Land" is also about a mother and child, though in this case it's Mother Earth and her human children who pollute instead of following environmental precepts. This political focus will also be familiar to Herdman's fans, who will respond to the feminism of "Ain't I a Woman" and the album-closing pleas for peace and understanding, Small and Pat Humphries' "Walls and Windows" and Paul Metsers' "Peace Must Come." In typically strong voice, Herdman continues to distinguish herself from old comparisons to Judy Collins and even throws in her own version of Billy Edd Wheeler's "The Coming of the Roads," a song Collins recorded more than 20 years earlier, to demonstrate the difference. Playing acoustic guitar, she is joined by backup musicians who have accompanied her throughout her career, among them co-producer Abby Newton on cello and Jay Ungar on fiddle, and her harmonies with Anne Hills and Cindy Mangsen on James Taylor's "Lonesome Road" (aka "That Lonesome Road"), "Ain't I a Woman," and "Peace Must Come" have a distinctive flavor that anticipates their formal grouping as a trio. The album, meanwhile, looks forward to Herdman's next collection, 1988's Stardreamer, which, not surprisingly, is a straight-out children's disc.


Born: Eastchester, NY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

In contrast to many of her contemporaries in folk music, Priscilla Herdman is largely an interpretive singer in the tradition of Joan Baez and Judy Collins, rather than a singer/songwriter. She has described herself as "a songfinder and interpreter of other people's music," adding, "Part of my storyfinding job is to find songs which so much deserve to be heard." Those songs are then heard sung in a three-octave voice that has dazzled critics. "Herdman's gifted with a rich, almost opulent timbre...impeccable...
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Darkness Into Light, Priscilla Herdman
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