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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  Fair
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Vinyl Cave: You Were on My Mind by Marti Shannon
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Sometimes inveterate crate digging turns up a true lost gem. Such is the case with the debut and only album release by Marti Shannon. You Were on My Mind was recorded in Nashville, but Shannon was a Washington, D.C., native who grew up in Canada. That is the sum of the biographical info contained on the LP's liner notes, by engineer Jim Malloy, which are mostly about how the recording process went very well. I can confirm Malloy's opinion about Shannon's strong singing voice is most definitely true: You Were on My Mind is one of the best obscure folk-rock albums I've run across in a long time.

Along with a cracking version of the title song, You Were on My Mind includes another Ian & Sylvia favorite -- "Someday Soon" -- as well as a very driving version of Richard Farina's "Hard Lovin' Loser" and Tom Paxton's oft-covered classic "The Last Thing on My Mind." It's not all familiar material however; there are also a couple good original songs by Shannon, and a pair co-written by the album's arranger, noted Canadian composer Ben McPeek. His wide-ranging career is a story in itself, with a resume that includes work in modern classical and musical theater composition, prolific jingle writing, and co-founding Nimbus 9 Productions, a major player in Canadian music during the classic rock era.

It's hard to say whether my favorite part of the album is Shannon's gutsy vocals -- reminiscent in timbre of Judy Henske at times -- or McPeek's clever arrangements, which come at the folk-rock genre from a much different angle than what was emerging from California at the time. Overall it's toward the rockin' end of folk-rock, with strong beats maintained throughout and very minimal orchestral backing. But McPeek also includes horn charts, bluesy harmonica blowing, and unusual instrumentation that includes bass harmonica and bells -- all without coming across as busy. It's another bonus that the whole thing has that RCA Nashville studio cat sheen and crisp sound quality. Fans of '60s folk-rock should definitely check this album out if it pops up in crate digging adventures.

There's not much more information about Marti Shannon to be found online. A few songs from the LP are posted on YouTube (including "This Little Bird"), and surprisingly the album is available in digital form at Amazon.com. Praguefrank's Country Music Discographies reveals that there is a non-LP single from the same time period as You Were on My Mind. And there are also a couple Billboard finds, with the first an intriguing mention of a big promotional push announced at RCA Victor Canada's annual sales meeting in the August 20, 1966 issue. One wonders whether the promotion ever materialized beyond the planning stage, or outside Canada.

As is sometimes the case with mysterious records, about the only biographical information turns up in comments on a blog post about the album, in this case by one of the singer's daughters. (As an aside -- the same site also has an interesting post about Appleton's Sunblind Lion). Shannon's real name was Mary Rosalie Begg (née Bryans), and she continued performing in Canada over the years. A search for her offstage name uncovers another comment by Begg/Shannon's daughter on a different blog post, which confirms that although she continued playing shows there were no further recordings. Shannon spent many years working as an accountant in British Columbia, and died in 2008. (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3633, 1966)

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