Rebecca and the Sunnybrook Farmers were a psychedelic-influenced band from Pittsburgh, PN, whose music was an interesting blend of country rock, folk rock, and sunshine pop. Featuring Ilene Rappaport on vocals, guitar, harmonica, and recorder, Ilene Novog on vocals, viola, and harpsichord, Mickey Kapner on guitar, sitar, organ, and backing vocals, Ernie Eremita on bass guitar and backing vocals, and Clifford Mandell on percussion and backing vocals, the group was a popular live act in Pittsburgh and was signed to Musicor Records, an outfit that specialized in country artists but was dabbling in rock sounds in the late '60s. Rebecca and the Sunnybrook Farmers released one album, Birth, for Musicor in 1969, recorded in New York City in either a week or a weekend, depending on who is telling the tale. While the album sold poorly, it became a cult favorite among collectors of rare psychedelia and was reissued by the British Fallout label in 2007. However, the group failed to reach a significant audience outside Pittsburgh during their lifespan, and they split up in 1971. Ilene Rappaport changed her name to Lauren Wood and recorded two albums with the trio Chunky, Novi & Ernie, as well as several solo albums; her song "Fallen" appeared on the soundtrack album to the film Pretty Woman, she sang the end title theme on the television series Just Shoot Me, and her duet with Michael McDonald, "Please Don't Leave," became a Top 20 hit in 1979. Ilene Novog continued to work as a session musician, performing on albums by the Indigo Girls, the Violent Femmes, and the Flat Duo Jets. Mickey Kapner eventually quit music and moved to the Boston area, where he enjoyed a successful career as a salesman. Kapner later had a religious awakening and changed his name to "Brother Nathaniel," and became a well-known street evangelist in both Massachusetts and Colorado.
Here are many odd things about the sole release from Rebecca and the Sunnybrook Farmers. First of all, the album was recorded in one weekend. The band drove up to New York from their hometown of Pittsburgh, recorded the album, and went home. Secondly, the album's label, Musicor Records, was primarily a country label. The only other hippie band on the label was the equally obscure Tingling Mothers Circus. Third, the bluegrass sounding band name; while hippies often DO have farms (especially indoor ones), the band name is hardly an indicator of the freakiness present on the album. And that's just the beginning: there are two Ilenes in the band (although one is really Lauren Wood), no one is actually named Rebecca, there is a violin player, and the band is nearly eclectic to a fault. And yet, the album holds together under the weight of all this strangeness, managing to deliver a solid set of songs that are enthsuiastically and imaginatively played
Side One is especially strong. "Two Blind Sisters" is a beautiful, baroque tearjerker, "Endless Trip" is a nice slice of West Coast pop, and "David and Sally" fairly represents the band's kooky, old-world side. Side two veers away from pop, with only slightly less success. "Better Dead than Red" starts off innocuously enough in a reflective, soft-psych mode, only to explode into a barrage of gunfire sound effects, whistles, and cacophonous drumming.
If you can track down a copy, I highly recommended this album, especially the songs composed and sung by Lauren Wood, a gifted songwriter who still plays to this day.
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