REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/14/2009
Ever have one of those days? You know what I am referring to – when you wake up and think: What’s the point of getting up? I’d rather stay in bed and listen to Simon And Garfunkel. If you have ever had this experience, Richie Havens’s hit 1967 album Mixed Bag is for you.
“Morning/ Morning/ (I) feel so lonely in the morning,” sings Havens in the beautifully folksy “Morning, Morning.” This hopeful melancholy remains a theme of the album. Although Mixed Bag is truly a “mixed bag” musically, ranging from protest folk (“Handsome Johnny”) and Bossa Nova (“Sandy”) to meditational spiritualism (“Adam”), all the songs are thematically similar: self doubt, loneliness, failure, and fear.
Take Havens’s swing rendition of Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues.” The song is about a woman he loves dearly, described as “the best girl I ever had.” But nothing good lasts and Havens treated her so badly that she left on an ocean liner. Life is ugly!
While “San Francisco Bay Blues” is disheartening, it pales in comparison to the aforementioned “Morning, Morning.” Starting out the day with loneliness and fear is one thing, but one would hope our minstrel feels differently in the evening. Not for Havens. He softly admits, “Nighttime / Nighttime / Does not bring me to relief.” Poor sap!
Since Havens did not write most of the album, some may wonder why I am focusing so much on its lyrical content. Well, whether Havens is singing Gordon Lightfoot (“High Flyin’ Bird”), Bob Dylan (“Just Like A Woman”), the Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”), or an original, he masters the art of staying thematically intact. His dark baritone voice and famous “open D” guitar-tuning echo the hopeful melancholy chronicled in the lyrics. So when Havens belts “What’s the use of singing this song? / Some of you are not even listening” in his protest original “Handsome Johnny,” his self-doubt is entirely believable. He has something to express with Mixed Bag. He just relies on both his and other’s compositions to do it.
What is the point of listening to an album filled with fear, loneliness, and self-doubt? Maybe it reflects a stark reality. The late 1960s brought a plethora of failed attempts. The peace movement did not stop the Vietnam War, civil rights leaders were murdered, politicians betrayed the American people, and Jonestown and Charles Manson permanently scarred hippie movements. Our own lives are filled with failures, doubts, and fears. Havens reminds us that we are not alone. That is enough for me.
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