Review: “Nobody Left To Crown,” Richie Havens

Richie Havens made quite an impression when he was the first act to play the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969.  Frantically scratching at his open-tuned guitar and wailing like a man possessed, his “Freedom” (made up right on the spot) is one of the classics of the Woodstock era.

Havens has carved a niche for himself as a singer of great emotion and power, and many of his songs have a deep social conscience that comment on modern times.  However, that doesn’t necessarily make for great listening.  Nobody Left To Crown, Havens’ first album of new material in four years, is a decent collection that showcases his unique voice but tends to get a little murky in the social relevance department.

The title song, written by Havens, is the best illustration of this album’s strengths and weaknesses.  You hear the seriousness in Havens’ voice, and he addresses the subject right up front, rather hopefully: “To those of you seeking perfection/Oh Lord, it’s not a long, long way to go/All you need is a bit of reflection/Just might seem like changing direction right now.”  He then takes aim on politicians, and sideswipes “Home On the Range,” on the way to concluding: “What if they gave an election/And nobody came … There’s nobody left to crown.”  Havens sounds more weary than angry, and maybe that’s what he was aiming for; however in doing so he seems to let his targets wiggle off the hook.

Jackson Browne’s “Lives In the Balance” states its case a little more clearly and is underlined by neat slide guitar work from Derek Trucks (Allman Brothers Band).  “Standing On The Water,” written by Andy Fairweather-Low, has a Leonard Cohen waltz feel to it, and of course, Havens’ furious cover of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” breathes a new life into that classic (see the “Cool Covers” post from last week).

If anything about Richie Havens’ voice and history are intriguing to you, this might be a good place to start – but don’t miss Mixed Bag, his first album from 1967, which may well be his best.  Or seek out a copy of the Woodstock movie soundtrack and crank “Freedom.”  When it’s all said and done, Nobody Left To Crown is a valiant effort by one of the last of the Sixties’ true believers.

MP3: “Nobody Left To Crown”

Richie Havens official website

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