Lauren Fox

October 23, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

“Canyon Folkies”

Metropolitan Room  –  October 11, 12, 26, November 11

How green was my valley—until it wasn’t anymore. In the late 1960s and early 1970s I was living in a Los Angeles canyon, not Laurel but the next one west, Coldwater. At the start of my journalistic career I covered the Mamas and the Papas, Jim Morrison, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackie DeShannon and Carole King. Along with Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and others, they all lived, loved, wrote and sang music in Laurel Canyon. They created the LA singer-songwriter sound, the folk-rock that became the dominant genre in popular music for a decade. I wallowed in the creativity of these canyon denizens and, to a point, their lifestyle. While I was sure then that their music would last forever, seeing it performed only in larger venues and often outdoors, it never occurred to me or to anyone else that it could comprise a cabaret act.

Lauren Fox is far too young to remember this era’s music first-hand, but she clearly has absorbed and internalized it to an astonishing degree. Her current show, which carries the titillating subtitle “Over the Hills and Under the Covers,” celebrates the Canyon’s “collaborations on songs and in bed,” as she puts it. Her patter neatly places the music and its makers in historical context and illuminates them for modern audiences. Fox’s selection of songs is flawless and the order in her show seamless. You get the feeling she could deliver a riveting lecture on the subject without singing a note, yet she never runs on too long. Her lyric delivery is invariably crisper than that of most of the originators, but seems no less organic. Musical director Jon Weber has made a huge contribution in arranging the songs. His piano playing—and occasional electronic keyboard—is also essential to the excellence of this enterprise, as is the work of Peter Calo on guitar and Ritt Henn on bass. All three men offer splendid and needed harmonic backup vocals on many of the songs first performed by groups.

“A Child in These Hills,” Jackson Browne’s bucolic metaphor for searching for life, beautifully opens Fox’s set, but lest we get too cozy with the Canyon’s scenery, she launches right into Stephen Stills’s “For What It’s Worth.” This song, Buffalo Springfield’s only hit single and better known by its opening words, “There’s somethin’ happenin’ here,” portends the protest and rebellion that were to become endemic to the era. It deals with a face-off between police and long-haired hippies on Sunset Strip. With somewhat happier songs, such as “Twelve-Thirty” by the group’s leader, John Phillips, the Mamas and the Papas became the breakout quartet among Canyonites, vaulting from poverty to mega-wealth in weeks. (“Twelve-Thirty” is also better-known by its lyric “Young girls are coming to the Canyon”). Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman wasted no time in satirizing these new millionaires and their wannabes with “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.”

Turning her attention to Laurel’s legendary love stories, Fox delivers a haunting “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Stills’s lament about his breakup with Judy Collins. Here the three musicians virtually channel Crosby, Stills & Nash. She follows this with a nifty pairing of Graham Nash’s “Our House” and Joni Mitchell’s “Willy.” He was celebrating their love nest on Lookout Mountain at the top of the canyon and she that Willy (her name for Graham) “is my child; he is my father.” Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” nailed the coda onto these breakups—and millions more. Fox’s rendition is, well, heart-breaking.

Carole King led the Brill Building exodus “Way Over Yonder” to Laurel Canyon where she quickly became the neighborhood’s major success with her triple-Grammy album “Tapestry” and its hit single (for James Taylor) “You’ve Got a Friend.” Fox does full justice to this familiar number and to an even bigger Laurel Canyon smash, the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” (Browne and Glenn Frey). But, as Jim Morrison portended, “The End” of the canyon incubator was in sight, thanks to “lots and lots of cocaine” and other contributing factors. Young made it even more specific with “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and Fox is equally on target with these downers. Fittingly, her set ends with Browne’s reminder of the promise and productivity of the Canyon “Before the Deluge”: “Some of them were dreamers, and some of them were fools…making plans and thinking of the future with the energy of the innocent.”

Fox’s encore is the only one it could be: Jackie DeShannon’s paean written right in the middle of it all (1969), “Laurel Canyon.”

 

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Robert Windeler is the author of 17 books, including biographies of Mary Pickford, Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple, and Burt Lancaster. As a West Coast correspondent for The New York Times and Time magazine, he covered movies, television and music, and he was an arts and entertainment critic for National Public Radio. He has contributed to a variety of other publications, including TV Guide, Architectural Digest, The Sondheim Review, and People, for which he wrote 35 cover stories. He is a graduate of Duke University in English literature and holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, where he studied critical writing with Judith Crist. He has been a theatre critic for Back Stage since 1999, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and is a member of The Players and the American Theatre Critics Association.

Leave a Reply