The Darkness of Old Shadows


NANCY PRIDDY: You've Come This Way Before (Modern Harmonic)

Although Nancy Priddy is primarily known as an actress, (Bewitched, The Waltons, and Married...With Children, to name but three) in the 1960s she also pursued a career as a recording artist. Initially in The Bitter End Singers whose blend of folk-pop hasn't aged particularly well via their brace of albums and a handful of largely forgettable 45s. Curios rather than classics. She sang backing vocals on Leonard Cohen's Songs Of, hung out with and dated Stephen Stills, Buffalo Springfield's "Pretty Girl Why" was written about her, and she was here, there and everywhere. 

Priddy possessed d the looks to be a muse, and  also via the good luck and vibe of the era made an album of her own You've Come This Way Before (CD/LP) that has over the years become recognised as a respected and desired artefact of the psych-folk genre. Difficult to find and expensive if one had the luck to do so, it has finally been revived, faithfully repackaged on vinyl and released on cd, and not before time. If slightly dislocated, kooky female fare is your opiate of choice, it is a treat, and if it isn't you are in for a feast and a surprise with a charmingly executed piece of sublime baroque fare.

Priddy stares languidly out from the cover. Beautiful, poised and direct, but in a faraway way. There but somewhere else, an impression that continues with what emerges from between the grooves. Her voice is wistful, spooky and hauntingly appealing. She resides somewhere in the milieu of Nancy Sinatra and the only recently rediscovered Lynn Castle, it is a strange confection.

Opening with the title track, a quirky Tim Hardin jazziness colludes with the pop breeziness of the Fifth Dimension. Slightly out of sync in vibe, Priddy's voice has a girlish clipped-ness that compliments the lyrical content, even if it seems darkly out of vibe with the positivity of the time.

"Our pathways are magnetic.

Our logic is synthetic

Our struggle is so pathetic and a bore."

It is followed by "Ebony Glass" and again a bleakness of perspective is suggested in the name. It is a strange madrigal of a song, a cross between a series of spooked wishes and malevolent incantations. With its nursery rhymes conceit her voice pipes and swoops in what is a bad trip of a song. T.S. Eliot and his Wasteland laid bare.

"With ebony stars and ebony jade,

This is the way the world was made.

And ebony sounds and ebony glass,

Bursting into ebony gas.

this is the way the world ends.

this is the way the world ends

this is the way the world ends."

"Mystic Lady" has a dislocated pop sensibility as it slips from up-tempo sunshine catchiness to a kooky sense of introspection. Trippy and spooky it slips between dark contemplation to positivity. All tightly reigned in but all over the place at the same time it is an interesting exercise in precision and madness

"Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross

And see what they've lost.

ladybug, ladybug

don't go home....


For the asking why

And the weary eyes

Stay my lady.

For the wondering wheres

And the nothing theres

Pray my lady.

For the falling downs

And the never founds

Stay my lady."

There is an implicit gospel element, but only briefly, as it fades away.

Then we enter "Christina's World," one of ethereal psych postcard images that suggests Bobbie Gentry in cahoots with "White Rabbit" era Jefferson Airplane.

"Yesterday - miles away

Suns fall down -

Green grass turning brown

Christina's world - was a world of 'Mustn't cry'....

Empty rooms and yellow lace."

A song whose sunlight has been edged with darkness.

''We Could Have It All' is a neat piece of girl pop with a marching tempo undercurrent and anthem-like refrain that could have been at home in the songs from the musical Hair. A rare blast of positivity in a collection riven with suggestions of calamity. Things take an odd detour once more with "My Friend Frank" -- a tune that is simply odd and not at home with itself. It sounds like the cast-off from an off of off Broadway show and is the weakest cut with its mixture of jazzy freed and up-tempo cheesiness. A song about someone not having either a good trip or a neat time, it sounds like a lampoon of the sixties it has arisen from

There's a "Taste Of Honey" beauty and sophistication to "O Little Child." A liltingly beautiful effort it again reveals a certain lyrical starkness that is carried by the elegance of the melody and the arrangement.

"Yours is a season of dew on the vine -

Mine is stained with the grapes of an old ageing wine

O, blessed be the hours of the absence of time."

"And Who Will You Be Then?" skips into life like an accusatory question. A dark little cabaret-style number with a faintly gothic vibe.

"See that face in the looking glass,

As it looks at you today.

Watch the eyes, and just try to guess,

All that they're dying to say."

It darkens as it goes along, a little like a letter from a girl whose been locked in a cupboard for a time, but all for her own betterment and self-improvement.

There's a sixties pop fluidity and vibrancy that ducks and dives in "On The Other Side Of The River" but it still manages to sound faintly misaligned, as if though it is spinning just lightly, but rather perfectly off of centre. The album concludes with "Epitaph" which glides a slightly classical piano craziness. Vocally delivered in a throwaway and couldn't care less manner it slides away as a rather unsatisfactory but beautiful ending like Tori Amos in free-fall.

Too arch to have ever actually sold in huge numbers, that is precisely why it all still resonates today. A product of the time but one that was primarily out of step with what was required or expected for it to gain success. To be an album recorded by a young woman at the height of flower power it is obtusely dark and self reliant. Love is barely mentioned, if it is even considered at all. There is no suggestion of a broken heart, lost love letters or the hope for happiness in the future. This is a cold, icy affair of the art. Short, mannered and distant and one that beguiles with its world of weary and abstracted disenchantments. Nothing that it should or could have been, it is precisely all the better for being itself.

Nancy Priddy didn't make another album for almost forty years. On the strength of this one she'd already staked her claim and made her mark. It would find its own place in time, and half a century on is now beginning to. Its title is both an answer and a perfect means of introduction.


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