Linda Hoover: I Mean to Shine

Linda Hoover’s I Mean to Shine has finally been released, 52 years after it was recorded. In the summer of 1970, 19 year old Hoover recorded this, her first album, in Manhattan’s Advantage Sound Studio with producer Gary Katz (Steely Dan, Diana Ross, 10cc), Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (Steely Dan, “the coolest guys I had ever met”, according to Hoover in the great sleeve notes by Scott Schinder); they lead a team that included guitarists and future Steely Dan members Denny Dias (a “human metronome” according to Walter Becker) and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Eric Weissberg (who arrived for a session on a motorbike dressed in leather), saxophonist Jerome Richardson, and members of the Dick Cavett Orchestra. With such an illustrious team, it’s hard to imagine how the album remained unreleased all these years, finally now issued on vinyl for Record Store Day 2022, to follow on CD and digital.

The album’s existence has been known to Steely Dan fans for a number of years, with the release shelved due to business issues; essentially Morris Levy, head of Roulette Records, had funded the recording with the intention of putting it out on the label (Joel Brodsky had even taken photos for the album cover), but the release was cancelled after Levy realised most of the publishing rights were spoken for.

Of the eleven tracks on the album, four were written by Becker and Fagan. According to a useful online resource, Lostmediawiki – Steely Dan (Partially Found Songs; 1969-2000), the title track may have been played live by Steely Dan during the Countdown to Ecstasy tour in the early ‘70s and was previously primarily known as a cover by the lady otherwise known as “Babs” on her 1971 album Barbara Joan Streisand. The sleeve notes for I Mean to Shine refer to Streisand’s version, with its performance sacrificing much of the song’s original character but still providing a launch pad for Katz, Becker and Fagen due to Streisand’s status; partly as a result they went on to accept job offers in L.A. for ABC-Dunhill Records, Katz as a staff producer and Becker and Fagen as staff songwriters. Biographer Brian Sweet, in “Steely Dan – Reelin’ in the Years” (2018), considered Hoover’s version preferable and according to Becker and Fagen themselves, truer to the original song. Anthony Robustelli points out in his book, “Steely Dan FAQ” (2017) that Hoover’s version has a middle section and outro that were dropped from Streisand’s version, and some of the lyrics were changed as well. What do we think? We’re not making a comparison, but Hoover’s version without doubt has a great, dramatic vocal and impressive guitar work.

Hoover says that what she found appealing about Becker and Fagen’s writing is that it had both “musicality and mystery”. This is an astute observation. Both “Turn My Friend Away” and “The Roaring of the Lamb” have surprising melodies and charismatic lyrics (and quasi-religious titles). “Roll Back The Meaning” may already be known to some Steely Dan fans. According to the sleeve notes, it was recorded by Becker and Fagan with Kenny Vance for the film soundtrack of “You’ve Got To Walk It Like You Talk It Or You’ll Lose the Beat” (1971); the Lostmediawiki – Steely Dan (Partially Found Songs; 1969-2000) states that as well as existing as an early demo it was also recorded for Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972), but didn’t make it to the album. Hoover’s version has a confident, breezy vocal with a guitar line and chorus which is undoubtedly reminiscent of some of Becker and Fagen’s best known work. “Jones” is a wistful ballad performed with a gentle country nod and a monkey on the silver screen, and has also been covered by Thomas Jefferson Kaye (on 1974 album First Grade) and according to Lostmediawiki – Steely Dan (Partially Found Songs; 1969-2000) by Walter Becker himself, but with substantially different lyrics.

Hoover contributes three of her own songs to the album – she is a fine songwriter, and all are beautifully sung; her vibrato stands out above the winding accompaniments to the poetic “The Autumn” (Weissberg plays an acoustic nylon stringed guitar) and “The Dove”, and she provides a sparky vocal to the orchestral backing of “Mama Tears”. She also belts out a great performance of “City Mug” (by Kenny Vance and Richie Lifschutz), which Schinder notes “maintains a self-conscious hipster stance that seems at odds with Hoover’s sincere persona”.

There are two further covers: “In A Station” (Richard Manuel), originally on The Band’s 1968 album Music From Big Pink, which has a great community feel due to the brass and vocal arrangement, and “4+20” (Stephen Stills), from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 1970 album Déjà Vu, which is a glorious interpretation thanks to Hoover’s melodious singing, a superb choice of instrumentation and some virtuoso guitar.

The album was transferred from the original quarter inch tape which languished in Hoover’s closet all these years; the tape was first baked in an oven for 12 hours and then patched in a digital recorder to produce a flawless reproduction of the sessions with stunning string and horn arrangements. From a historical perspective it was one of Becker and Fagen’s first major label recordings and included some of their earliest works never recorded again, but it also suggests Hoover was a star in waiting. According to Schinder’s sleeve notes, Hoover was (understandably) heartbroken and extremely disappointed when she was told in 1970 that the album was not being released, and this feeling intensified when learning that Streisand had subsequently recorded the title track. However Hoover has remained pragmatic and devoid of bitterness about the experience, which is a credit to her as a person. Irrespective of its interesting history, I Mean to Shine is a great album and essential listening.

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Label: Omnivore
Release Date: 24 JUN 2022