I was reminded of Richie Havens by recently published books about the Woodstock music festival of 1969. Havens was the opening act, thrown on stage for over three hours to keep the crowd happy while the producers worked to get the stage completed and the sound system built. I once saw Havens on Navy Pier in Chicago, performing for WBEZ Radio's weekly folk music show. Now seemed a good time to hear Havens again. Being the librarian that I am, I searched our shared catalog to see what CDs I could borrow.
First, I received an interlibrary loan of a greatest hits CD. Since Havens never really succeeded on Top 40 radio, it was not a collection filled with performances that I knew well, and the quality of the recordings was varied. Many of the tracks were covers of songs made famous by other folksingers. I was left thinking that he was much better live than recorded.
My thinking has now changed, as I have been listening for a couple of weeks to Grace of the Sun, an album released in 2004. The sound is clear, the guitars ring, and Havens' voice is deep and mesmerizing. Havens wrote most of the songs himself, though he does still reinterpret Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" and Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" in ways that makes them totally new. I am glad I did not stop with the old greatest hits album. I have something to add to my Christmas list.
Havens, Richie. Grace of the Sun. Stormy Forest Productions, 2004.