Dory Previn

I’ve been listening to a lot of Dory Previn recently. She’s an artist that I really wish I’d not overlooked for so long. Lyrical intelligence, vocals somewhere between Karen Carpenter’s and Amanda Palmer’s and musical arrangements from heaven, this is stunning stuff.

Dory Previn died in 2012 at the age of 86. She stopped releasing albums in the mid 1970’s but there’s an incredible canon of work against her name that I’m only just discovering.

What a life she had. There’s a candid honesty within her songwriting that’s tender, sad, occasionally uncomfortable but often darkly humourous. These are stories about her own life; her Catholic upbringing, her time spent in mental institutions and her complicated relationship history. She’s lived these songs.

Many of her songs linger on her strained, complicated relationship with her father. A war veteran, he apparently never resolved some mental battles after being gassed. When young, her father boarded his family up into the house they lived in and held them captive by gunpoint for months. Dory often reflects on how she could never gain his approval or love. I’m not sure she says it any stronger than on ‘I dance and dance and smile and smile’ from her 1971 album, ‘Reflections In A Mud Puddle’.

She’s got songs about casual flings and one night stands; awkward, compromising situations that focus on inadequate human relationships. ‘Coldwater Canyon’ and ‘The Lady With The Braid’ are good, starting points if you’re drawn to such songs. Her marriage to Andre Previn broke down and ended in divorce after he had an affair with the 23 year old Mia Farrow. And, true to form, she writes candidly about the experience in ‘Beware Of Young Girls.’

I spent a couple of fine hours in bed last weekend listening to a fine radio interview that Bernadette Cahill conducted with Dory Previn in 2005. Interspersed with fragments of Previn’s songs, this is a relaxed and gentle, thought-provoking, sometimes laugh-out-loud exploration into an incredible talent.

I’ve joined the fan club.



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