Born Malvina Milder of Jewish socialist immigrant parents in San Francisco, Malvina was refused her diploma by Lowell High School because her parents were opposed to US participation in World War I. She entered UC Berkeley anyway, and received her BA and MA in English. She married William Reynolds, a carpenter and organizer, in 1934 and had one child, Nancy, in 1935. She completed her dissertation and was awarded her Doctorate in 1936. It was the middle of the Depression, she was Jewish, socialist, and a woman. She could not find a job teaching at the college level. She became a social worker and a columnist for the People's World and, when World War II started, an assembly-line worker at a bomb factory. When her father died, she and her husband took over her parents' naval tailor shop in Long Beach, California. There in the late forties she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger and other folk singers and songwriters and began writing songs. She returned to Berkeley, and to the University, where she took music theory classes in the early fifties. She gained recognition as a songwriter when Harry Belafonte sang her “Turn Around.” Her songs were recorded by Joan Baez, Judy Collins, The Seekers, Pete Seeger, and the Limeliters, among others. She wrote songs for Women for Peace, the Nestle Boycott, the sit-ins in San Francisco on auto row and at the Sheraton-Palace, the fight against putting a freeway through Golden Gate Park and other causes. She toured Scandinavia, England and Japan. A film biography, Love It Like a Fool, was made a few years before she died in 1978. Ellen Stekert is writing a biography and would like information about Malvina's pre-1945 activities.
How many other musicians made their major-label recording debuts as grandmothers in their mid-sixties, as Malvina Reynolds did on this circa late-1966/early-1967 LP, produced by John Hammond? But those were different times, which saw ridiculously uncommercial, avowedly antiestablishment albums released by the labels of large corporations. And this is certainly an uncommercial record, Reynolds' wavering voice - even the liner notes disclose how "she admitted to one critic that she had a semi-permanent frog in her throat" - backed by plain acoustic guitar-dominated instrumentation, though it sounds like a bass is in the mix at points. As froggy as it is here, though, her voice was in better shape than it would be on her 1970s recordings for the small Cassandra label. And this does give you the chance to hear Reynolds' own versions of her two most famous songs, which were primarily associated with other performers on record - "Little Boxes" (which was a small hit for Pete Seeger) and "What Have They Done to the Rain?" (a hit for the Searchers, and also recorded by Joan Baez, Marianne Faithfull, and the Seekers). Those two compositions, particularly "What Have They Done to the Rain?," are the best songs on the LP, which otherwise ranges from moving and inspirational '60s folk ("I Don't Mind Failing," the melancholy closer "Bitter Rain") to unappealingly didactic folk protest. In part because of that streak of blunt righteousness, and in part because the melodies and singing often aren't that strong, much of this hasn't dated well, even if the spirit of Reynolds' anger and satire - targeting bigotry, suburban conformity, religious fundamentalism, and overdevelopment - remains right-on and commendable in many ways.
The New Restaurant
What's Goin' On Down There
Battle of Maxton Field
God Bless the Grass
I Don't Mind Failing
What Have They Done to the Rain?
The Devil's Baptizin
The Bloody Neat
Love Is Something (Magic Penny)
Malvina Reynolds - Sings the Truth (1967)
(320 kbps, front cover included)