MONM 2011 Day 8: Margo Guryan’s Take a Picture

Margo Guryan – Take a Picture (1968)

I don’t know if I can make a stronger argument for this album than just showing off its opening track:

But in the spirit of this project, I’ll give it a shot. A jazz musician turned on to the counterculture by a Beach Boys-loving friend (who also happened to be the songwriter behind the “I’m Just a Bill” Schoolhouse Rock episode), Guryan uses that background to bring an off-kilter energy to her sunshiny pop. Her voice is a perpetual whisper – maybe a little too breathy at times – but the songs are often surprisingly muscular, especially the aforementioned “Sunday Morning” (no relation to the VU tune), and the sprawling “Love,” which swims through almost two minutes of spacey noodling before congealing into tuneful psychedelia.

Not that there aren’t any softer spots, mind you. “Take a Picture”, “Love Songs” and the Pet Sounds-inspired “Think of Rain” are all supremely lovely, and exceptionally well produced. Sweet as they are, though, the ballads don’t quite rise to the level of the more upbeat fare. They don’t hold as many surprises, and they don’t have the benefit of the cognitive dissonance that comes from the contrast between Guryan’s kittenish voice and the less-than-delicate arrangements.

Guryan wasn’t a fan of touring, which is likely a big part of why her only album never really took off, and she soon dropped out of the music biz to become a teacher. Guryan’s blend of folk, pop and jazz would’ve made for a fine female counterpart to Donovan, and outliers like the Brill Building-influenced “What Can I Give You” are proof that there’s no shortage of directions she could’ve taken. Take a Picture belongs firmly in the “forgotten classic” canon, and fans of soft psychedelia are strongly encouraged to track it down.

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