The second album from Montreal-based foursome Ladies of the Canyon, Diamond Heart, was a genuine pleasure to listen to –over and over… Much like Linda Ronstadt or Stevie Nicks -two vocalists who rose out of the 60s California folk scene to achieve international prominence, Ladies of the Canyon aim broadly at the pop market while tipping their ten gallon hats to roots in traditional forms like folk and country music. Each song is a polished radio-ready stone of its own; there are no interludes, electronic fugues, extended solos or weird tension-building intros here. What the band sacrifices in terms of experimentation they easily compensate for with frank accessibility and hypnotic simplicity. Though clearly modeled after the AM rock sound of Fleetwood Mac or Heart, thanks to painstaking production the dozen songs on Diamond Heart also appealed to my love for shoegaze (“Two Moons”), psych (“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”), stoner (“Black Water”) and soul (“Dear John”).
LOTC add to the intrigue by tapping into the Laurel Canyon mystique, the subject of so much conjecture in the internet age (refer to Dave McGowan’s Inside the LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation), and by choosing to cover the song Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, steeped in controversy since at least 1990, when obscure California folk singer Anne Bredon successfully sued Led Zeppelin for stealing the song from her (read the tangled tale here). Before I start to ramble about the many trivial facts surrounding the band and their choice of name, take my advice and find a way to listen to this great album (http://www.ladiesofthecanyon.com/en).
Artist: Ladies of the Canyon
Title: Diamond Heart
Label: Warner Music Canada
Bandmark Rating: 8.5 on 10
DID YOU KNOW? Born in Fort MacLeod, Alberta in 1943, singer, songwriter and guitarist Joni Mitchell moved to the West Hollywood Hills enclave of Laurel Canyon, California in 1969 to live with Graham Nash, vocalist and songwriter of successful British band The Hollies, who had left England a year earlier. In 1970, while living with Nash at 8217 Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon (for pictures of the house and additional info), Mitchell recorded the critically acclaimed album Ladies of the Canyon. Mitchell remains one of the most influential and celebrated songwriters of all time –not just in Canada, but worldwide. Her list of accolades is immense and includes induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1997), the Billboard Century Award (1996 -Mitchell did not attend), a Lifetime Achievement Award (2002) and eight Grammy awards –the first for Ladies of the Canyon.
Mitchell’s 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon spoke not only of her own individual experiences, but also those of other women living and spending time, often recording albums, in the Laurel Canyon community. These literal ladies of the canyon also included Cass Elliott of the Mamas and Papas, who passed away in 1974; Christine Frka of the GTOs, dead in 1972 of a drug overdose; Phyllis Browne, wife of platinum recording artist Jackson Browne, whose 1976 death was ruled a suicide; Janis Joplin, a frequent visitor to the Canyon who in 1970 died in the area’s Landmark Hotel; Christine Hinton, a girlfriend of another Crosby, Nash, Stills & Young member (David Crosby), found murdered in 1969; and Amy Gossage, a later partner of Graham Nash’s and his girlfriend at the time she was found, stabbed over 50 times, dead in her San Francisco home in May of 1974.
These were troubled and mysterious times marked by drug overdoses, house burnings, militant activism and widespread paranoia concerning the murders of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, rife with tales of mind-controlled Manchurian killers, ritual sacrifices and shadowy occult groups. When Ladies of the Canyon was released there were other, even more unfortunate ladies turning up in Laurel Canyon, often dead (like 17-year old Marina Habe, whose abused body was found in the bushes alongside now-legendary Mulholland Drive), sometimes unidentified (such as the case of Jane Doe #59, found in November 1969 with 157 stab wounds in her chest in the brush just feet away from where Habe’s body). aHa
The strange happenings in Laurel Canyon came too close to home for Joni Mitchell. In addition to the numerous murders that would plague the lives of her boyfriend and his bandmates she had to contend with the house next door, that of Canned Heat’s Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, burning down to the ground in 1969. Wilson himself was dead of a drug overdose within the year. By 1971 Mitchell had left her Laurel Canyon home, moving to British Columbia, and parted ways with Graham Nash, though the legacy of the Lookout Mountain Avenue house and her album Ladies of the Canyon continues to this day.
Other famous Laurel Canyon residents, past and present, include Mick Fleetwood and Fleetwood Mac, James Dean, Harry Houdini, Jack Nicholson, Jim Morrison, Donovan, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Boris Karloff, Marilyn Manson, George Clooney, Dennis Hopper, Marlon Brando and Rick Rubin. The infamous Manson family murders of 1969 took place at the Laurel Canyon home of Sharon Tate and the Wonderland murders (also known as the Four-on-the-Floor murders) of 1981, implicating porn star John Holmes and immortalized in the films Wonderland (2003) and Boogie Nights (1997), occurred at a Laurel Canyon address on Wonderland Avenue. Not bad for a town with less than 5000 inhabitants where the average property goes for $995 000 (Laurel Canyon census and demographics statistics).