Lobby card for Zane Grey's The Wanderer of the Wasteland, 1924
"Now that's one lost album that should have stayed lost." That's a line I hear a lot lately, probably because of the proliferation of boutique reissue labels and the increased availability of digital releases. It's a line of reasoning that bugs me, though - what would be the point in wanting something to be unavailable? Take Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's solo album Pacific Ocean Blue - I hear people saying that it should have remained unreleased. Really? It's that bad? So bad that you'd rather deprive everyone else of getting to hear it just to save you the disappointment of inflated expectations? I like "lost" albums - not just for the mystique (although I admit that that's part of the appeal), but because they are usually very personal albums that never got released because of their lack of broad appeal. I will admit, however, that every so often they get canned because they are plain sucky.
Take Smokey and his Sister, for example. I'm calling it a 1967 release because that's when it was recorded, but, apart from two 7" singles, the tracks of this album weren't released until 2007. And it's an album that could make an easy target for the "shoulda stayed unreleased" criticism - a super-twee album of baroque folk-pop made by two kids from Tennessee who moved to New York to make the big time as musicians. After getting a minor hit with their first single, "Creators of Rain", Smokey and Vicki Mims recorded an album of tracks for Columbia, but the execs at the label refused to release the LP - they went on to make a couple records for Warner Brothers, but they never matched the weird appeal of their first songs. A couple years ago, Sundazed Music released the Smokey and his Sister album to satisfy the curiosity of record collectors who had found and loved the "Creators of Rain" single.
The album is oddly appealing to me for some of the reasons I gave above. Vicki Mims has a folky alto voice perfect for harmonizing, and Smokey needs the support for his wafer-thin, whispery tenor. They sing like siblings, with a natural ease and intimacy that's created by their soft vocal style, and well-placed orchestral embellishments give the songs some much-needed "oomph". Cellist George Ricci is one of the best supporting players, adding emotive touches that never overwhelm the delicate compositions. Smokey's songs came from a very personal place as well, with lyrics about love, loss, and the forces of nature. Highlights on the record include the gypsy-folk of "A Simple Cameo" and the sprightly "Come and Be Mine", but the two sides of the "Creators of Rain" single are the Mims' best songs. The b-side "In a Dream of Silent Seas (You Can Find Me)" is the most hushed song of them all, with Smokey's voice often submerged under the waves of violin. As for "Creators of Rain", it's a nature allegory in the familiar acoustic folk style, but its instantly-familiar duet melody matches the vulnerable vocals of Smokey and Vicki perfectly - it's a song that, on its own merits, justifies the "finding" of this lost album.
"Creators of Rain" by Smokey and his Sister