NOTES FOR CYRUS FARYAR'S ISLANDS
Faryar was already
well known to insiders in the folk and folk-rock world for a good
decade or so before he issued his debut solo album, Cyrus (also reissued on CD by
Collectors' Choice Music), on Elektra in 1971. A gentle but
idiosyncratic singer-songwriter album, it didn't sell well, perhaps in
part because of a lavish release party (at Faryar's house, where the
album was recorded) that might have eaten up a lot of the promotional
budget. That didn't stop Elektra from giving the green light to a
second album, Islands, which
appeared a couple of years later.
Like Cyrus, Islands was recorded at Faryar's
home studio in Los Angeles. Whereas Faryar had produced Cyrus himself, however, Islands would be handled by John
Simon, who'd recently worked on records by the Band, Simon &
Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and
Blood, Sweat & Tears. Simon also played piano, organ, steel drums,
and horns on the record, as well as penning one of its songs, "Livin'
in a Land O' Sunshine." Otherwise Cyrus retained many of the sidemen
who'd played on his first album, including drummer Mike Botts, bassist
Brian Garafalo, guitarist Dick Rosmini, and Collin Walcott of the jazz
fusion group Oregon.
"The principal difference was that I basically kind
of produced the first one myself, just as a wonderful, joyful
exploration, in my living room," comments Faryar today. "The second
one, same living room, had a real serious producer, John Simon, who was
so experienced, and had produced so many different kinds of people and
artists. He was a good friend, and an arranger and an accomplished
musician, and had a sense and knowledge of structure, and was able to
pull it together. I could never have done what John did. And we had a
lot of fun."
As on Cyrus,
there was a similarity to some of Fred Neil's work in the baritone
vocals and placid ambience. In fact, Faryar even included one of Neil's
songs, "Dolphins," from the classic Fred Neil album, on which Cyrus had
played as a sideman. This time around, however, he favored somewhat
longer songs, never more so than on the ten-minute opener, "Bright
Island & So We Sailed." The track actually segued together a
"Bright Island" prologue of sorts—written by Bill Martin, who'd penned
one of the songs on Cyrus,
"Evergreen (Earth Anthem)"—with Faryar's own "So We Sailed." "The song
itself was actually inspired by a Sufi parable," Cyrus discloses.
"Somebody had given me a book, and there was this sketch in the front.
It was a Sufi parable of, I guess, creation, or something. And it
describes how people's souls, [or] something, were cast into this void
and journeyed across the void to some place where they took form. I
mean, if that isn't a song, I've never heard one. Or movie, even! It
turned out great. It was supposed to start with, in my mind, a vision
of, like, 100 ukuleles—don't ask me why. But we only had one, so we had
to overdub it lots of times. But it got the message out there."
Though Faryar wrote about half of the material on Islands, he tapped a couple of
other outside sources as well. "Paradise," credited to Harry Nilsson,
had first been recorded back in the mid-1960s by the Ronettes and the
Shangri-Las, even before Nilsson's debut album, and was chosen in part
because "it kind of fit the theme of the album, which was Islands." "Ghosts" was contributed
by Faryar's wife of the time, Renais, who'd also composed a track on
Cyrus's first LP, "Kingdom." Renais also played piano and sang on
"Kingdom," and formed part of the Ettes, a quartet of women who sang
backup vocals on "So We Sailed" and "Paradise." The Ettes also included
Oona Austin, now wife of Phil Austin of the Firesign Theatre, whose
1969 album How Can You Be in Two
Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All Faryar produced.
The good vibes also leaked into John Simon's
trombone part on the LP closer, "At Sunset." "By that time of night,
there'd been a few beers, or a couple of tequilas, or something,"
remembers Cyrus. "John was pretty well lubricated by the time he got
into the hallway with the trombone, and it was pretty hysterical. A
slightly intoxicated guy with a trombone in his hand is not something
you see every day." The multi-talented Simon, adds Faryar, "caused all
of the strings to occur. To him, it was an everyday affair to
write parts for anything in the orchestra, to put on or take away." The
strings were contracted, incidentally, by Harry Lookofsky, father of
the keyboardist and principal songwriter of the Left Banke, Michael
Brown. In his low-key way, however, Faryar remains somewhat
dissatisfied with some of the final mixes. "There are mixes that
emerged on the two albums which were not the mixes chosen," he
observes. "There was a mix of 'Dolphins' which was really way better
than the one that got on the album."
There's no question that Elektra president Jac
Holzman was a staunch supporter of Faryar. Holzman got an "album
concept and guidance counselor" credit on the back cover, and even took
the back cover photo in Maui, where Jac had moved to live in 1973, when
Islands was released. "Jac and
I were friends, and it pleased me that his involvement was more than
just across a desk," points out Cyrus. " It was in the nature of Jac's
relationships with his artists that they were personal. Jac would be at
my house. It was part of the context of the album itself. In a way, I
made it for Jac and my other friends. And whether it would be a
commercial success was probably never considered," he laughs loudly.
like Cyrus, made no
commercial impact, and both LPs are among the rarest Elektra releases
of the era. As Holzman acknowledges, "The reason they're hard to find
is they didn't sell all that well, so there weren't that many copies
out there to begin with." And Faryar would not record for Elektra
again. "It was just those two [albums], and then the tides of time
shifted," he summarizes. "The venues shifted. Jac moved to Maui, I
moved back to Hawaii, he sold the company. My energies were always with
the MFQ [the Modern Folk Quartet, with whom he'd recorded in the
mid-1960s]. We got back together, and then I produced a couple of
things, stuff like that. And just basically came back to Hawaii and did
as many other artists do, disappeared into my life."
Not that Cyrus has many regrets about the way things
turned out. "I never wanted to be famous," he states. "I feel
particularly gifted that I had such a splendid time with so many great
people. It's not a solo effort by any means. My gratitude goes out to
everybody who made it possible. That's what it's all about—in my case,
particularly wonderful times spent in my house with my dear friends.
You couldn't ask for more." -- Richie Unterberger
unless otherwise specified.
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