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Venerated Topanga Folkie Linda Perhacs Releases Her First New Work in 44 Years

Adam von Passow (left) and Julia Holter (right) play a casual session with Perhacs (center) in 2010
Adam von Passow (left) and Julia Holter (right) play a casual session with Perhacs (center) in 2010
Courtesy of Blueberry Buddha Studios.

In 1970, singer-songwriter Linda Perhacs released what may have been Topanga Canyon's greatest musical export, Paralellograms. It sold few copies upon its original release, but the album's rediscovery during the early 2000s led Los Angeles historian Kim Cooper to dub it a "dreamy evocation of nature and sexuality."

Mojo magazine said its "depth and beauty is, nearly four decades on, still utterly staggering." A vinyl reissue on Wild Places Records saw Rolling Stone give it 4½ stars.

Now, 44 years later, she has finally gotten around to releasing her second album, The Soul of All Natural Things, out Tuesday on Sufjan Stevens' Asthmatic Kitty Records.

The album came together in circuitous fashion. By the mid-'00s Perhacs had befriended indie-folk icon Devendra Banhart, and performed on his 2007 album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Meanwhile, an outtake from Parallelograms  - "If You Were My Man" - was used in Daft Punk's surrealist film, Electroma (2006). 

Before long, Perhacs was drawn out of retirement to play Parallelograms in clubs around East Hollywood. Julia Holter performed with Perhacs during these early shows. "Once I met that community," Perhacs remembers, "I said, 'I'm in.' I can't deny these people." By summer 2012, producer Fernando Perdomo - best known for his work with Britpop act, Transcendence - emailed Perhacs with the idea of recording a new album. 

The sole criticism leveled at Paralellograms, perhaps, was Perhac's vocal likeness to Joni Mitchell. The Soul of All Natural Things hopes to set the record straight.

"River of God," its lead single, best bridges the decades. Over a kaleidoscope of droney organs and pastoral guitar lines, Perhacs sings a heartfelt prayer for the return of love "just to help them with their lives."

"Prisms of Glass," in which Ramona Gonzalez of Nite Jewel shares vocals, allows Perhacs to clarify on whose behalf she supplicates. Employing a slow-building sitar crescendo and baroque synth pattern, "Glass" refracts the maternal zeal she feels for her new-found youthful acolytes. It is at once pastoral and modern.

This new album is something she says she'd hoped to make for many years. The reasons for not doing so are not always clear. Disappointment with the final mixdown and dismal sales of Parallelograms, as well as a painful divorce, led Perhacs to embark on what she calls a "long spiritual journey."
 

Linda Perhacs' new album, "The Soul of All Natural Things" (Asthmatic Kitty Records)
Linda Perhacs' new album, "The Soul of All Natural Things" (Asthmatic Kitty Records)

Linda Perhacs was born in Santa Monica during the height of World War II. Her family moved north to Mill Valley when she was in the second grade and returned to the Southland when Perhacs was offered a full scholarship to attend USC.

She says she contemplated nursing before becoming a dental hygienist. "Healing people is a part of me," Perhacs notes, speaking from her dental office in Topanga.

During the late '60s, she apprenticed at an office off Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, where she treated Hollywood luminaries such as Dinah Shore, Cary Grant and Paul Newman.

Record producer Leonard Rosenman, also a patient, knew that Perhacs lived in Topanga Canyon and, needing to meet film and television requests for flower-power compositions, asked if she knew any songwriters who'd fit the profile. To Rosenman's surprise, Perhacs volunteered herself.

In the midst of the sessions that eventually yielded Parallelograms, Perhacs says she had a vision. "About 11 or 12 at night," she recalls, "I was driving on the freeway from the Palisades back to Topanga when I saw a light dangling from the sky, like a rainbow. I pulled off immediately and tried to sketch what I saw."

The next day, while working on a song for 12-string guitar, Perhacs created the first of her three-dimensional sound diagrams, based on the shapes she saw in the sky. "I tried to translate the yellows and blues in terms of wavelengths and sounds," she continues. It became the title song of the album, and the graph-like method of songwriting stuck.

"Linda makes very intricate scores for her songs," confirms Holter, whose collaboration on "Intensity" from The Soul of All Natural Things is a stunning synthesis of youthful abandon and tender maturity. "[They're] written in pen and highlighters of different colors, with lyrics and squiggly lines to indicate dynamic changes and things."

The new album closes with "Song of the Planets," a hymn to pacifism that straddles the line between classical and camp. The song opens with a light tickling of the ivories that recalls PM Dawn's '90s love jam, "I'd Die Without You." Musing on the synthesaesia of all things in the universe, "Planets" slips right over the edge when Banhart Perhacs' band member Chris Price enters midway for a spoken word lecture on love "as the cohesive principle."

Yet, despite the compelling productions and progressive polemnics that fill The Soul of All Natural Things, the relatability factor feels sometimes absent.

Indeed, by disappearing these last 44 years, Perhacs has been able to skip all the bad hair-dos, public relationships gone awry, the facelifts, botox and Barbara Walters specials. And yet one can't help but feel that the lack of such bloodletting is part of what makes this latest affair slightly ephemeral.

That Linda Perhacs has opened that door once more is, doubtless, cause for celebration. We know how she feels about all natural things; the onus now lies with her to fill us in on what makes her soul stir.

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