The Fifth Element #61 John Marks' Mystic Chords

Sidebar: John Marks' Mystic Chords

1) Linda Ronstadt: "Long, Long Time" (by Gary B. White); from Silk Purse (1970) and The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt (CD, Rhino 76109).

Ronstadt's vocal approach to this tearjerker is as much Grand Opera as Grand Ole Opry—here she achieved an intensity of passion and a degree of tangible naturalness that she never was to surpass.

2) Roberta Flack: "Jesse" (by Janis Ian); from Killing Me Softly (1973; CD, Atlantic SD 19154).

One of the most perfectly structured and elegantly written songs of the singer-songwriter era—"elegant" in its pastel renderings of heartbreakingly concrete details, I mean. Janis Ian counted the cost of lost love every time she set an extra place at the table at noon. Roberta Flack's cover is hard to beat.

3) Gordon Lightfoot: "If You Could Read My Mind," from If You Could Read My Mind (1970; CD, Reprise 6392-2) and Songbook (CD, Rhino R2 75802).

Gordon Lightfoot arrived at a magical formula: By the dark of the moon, mix equal portions of John Dowland and Stephen Foster with small amounts of Schubert and Woody Guthrie. Lightfoot's magic here is as much in the psychological depth of the images and allusions in his lyrics as in the trueness of the music to its folk-ballad roots.

4) Clifford Brown: With Strings (1955; CD, Universal Distribution 9525).

Brown's essential humanity shines in this relaxed program of ballads and Great American Songbook standards, with Richie Powell on piano and Max Roach on drums. There is not a meaningless or self-indulgent gesture in this entire album. One of the most beautiful recordings ever made.

5) Frederick Delius: The Walk to the Paradise Garden, from A Village Romeo and Juliet; Sir John Barbirolli, Boston Symphony Orchestra (1959; DVD, VAI 4304).

I think this 10-minute gem is even more evocative than Munch's recording of Debussy's La Mer, and that's saying a lot. The orchestral playing glows from within. The Walk to the Paradise Garden from Barbirolli's legendary 1963 guest appearances with the BSO is now apparently no longer available, but if you see it, grab it. In any event, this 1959 version is nearly as good, and you also get to watch Barbirolli's graceful and unselfconscious conducting. The other pieces on the DVD are wonderful, too. There were giants in the earth then.—John Marks