In 2003, the folk label Wild Places reissued Linda Perhacs’s 1970 album, Parallelograms, to wide acclaim, but the Perhacs renaissance didn’t truly begin until 2007, when Devendra Banhart used the once-obscure Topanga Canyon singer-songwriter’s vocals on his album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Perhacs’s second album, The Soul of All Natural Things, arrives 44 years after her debut, and is a mixed bag. Even with the help of such of-the-moment luminaries as Julia Holter and Nite Jewel’s Ramona Gonzalez, the album has a dated quality that recalls not so much the early 1970s as ’90s-era adult contemporary. Trip-hop flourishes were already aging poorly when Kate Bush revived the sound for 2005’s Aerial, and the flamenco touches on The Soul of All Natural Things’s title track imbue the production with a tokenistic exoticism that feels forced.
At its most successful, The Soul of All Natural Things is delicate and ghostly, like early Joni Mitchell or the Carpenters’ more haunting moments. The appeal of Parallelograms was its idiosyncratic harmonies and gentle new-age psychedelia, and those elements can be found on songs like “River of God” and “Freely.” Holter’s unusual vocal arrangements are her calling card, and her presence here is a definite asset, especially with the cascading choral setting of “Prisms of Glass.” Unfortunately, Perhacs doesn’t have the strength of voice she had in the 1970s. Her breathiness and wobble add some character, but she’s far from the mezzo songbird she was in her prime.
The album’s press notes call The Soul of All Natural Things “subtly polemical,” and if that’s true, the polemic is too subtle: When Perhacs does attempt to get trenchant, it’s in lightweight, noncontroversial plaints like “Every day we work a little faster/Every day we work a little more” and “We’re living on the edge/Playing on the edge.” The album would have benefited from playing on that edge; instead, it rests on the laurels of its earthy prettiness.