Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rosalie Sorrels reissues – Travelin’ Lady & Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was

Travelin’ Lady
original LP on Sire

Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was
original LP on Paramount

I first met Rosalie Sorrels, the great singer, songwriter and storyteller, sometime around 1970 or so when she was in Montreal to play at the too-short-lived Back Door Coffee House. It was a four or five night gig and while she there she wrote “Travelin’ Lady,” which became her signature song and gave her next LP its title.

Travelin’ Lady was her current album when I started to produce concerts for Rosalie in Montreal and it was followed by Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was, a year or so later.

(In the late-‘70s, Rosalie was one of my clients for a couple of years when I operated a folk music booking agency.)

Of all of Rosalie’s albums, these were the only two on major labels and like many albums by non-mainstream artists on the majors, they went out-of-print much too soon.

While most of Rosalie’s albums from over the years have been reissued on CD at one time or another, these two never were until a few years ago when they were put out in Asia by Big Pink, a reissue label in South Korea. Here in North America, they had to be ordered expensively over the Internet (with even more expensive shipping charges).

Those LPs meant a lot to me so after Rosalie assured me she was actually earning royalties from the reissues, I ordered them and they took their place in my complete collection of Rosalie Sorrels CDs.

At age 81 and with some health issues, Rosalie can no longer travel and perform but her son Kevin Sorrels (who I've not seen since he was a kid) is operating her website and is making the two CDs available as a package deal as a way of generating some extra income for her. I believe Kevin is selling copies of the albums he's had manufactured domestically, but the price is significantly cheaper than what I paid a few years ago to order the albums from South Korea.

Travelin’ Lady, with liner notes by Hunter S. Thompson, was highlighted by three of Rosalie’s best songs: “Travelin’ Lady,” the story of her life on the road; “Postcard From India,” a philosophical tribute to endurance and acceptance; and “Rosalie, You Can’t Go Home Again.” Written at a time when Rosalie’s marriage had broken up and she was out on the road earning a hard living for herself and her five kids. The song is about the need to stand on her own and move forward.

Another highlight is Bruce “Utah” Phillips’ “Rock Me to Sleep,” one of the best songs ever about how the commercial music business can suck music and its creators dry.

Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was which features some country, blues and folk-rock arrangements includes some fine examples of Rosalie’s original songwriting but my favorite songs on it are her interpretations of several other writers’ works.

Among them are three songs about the ravages of too much alcohol or the reasons that lead to too much drinking. Gary White’s “Nobody’s,” named for a Greenwich Village bar from back in the day, captures the feelings of loneliness and despair of a woman in pain. The song includes the line that gave the LP its title and I think Rosalie sang it son convincingly because she’s lived those feelings herself. Paul Geremia’s “Elegant Hobo,” arranged very differently from Paul’s own version, let us know that any of us could someday be that hobo, while “The Toast,” also by Gary White, is a powerful late night bar closer about the reasons too many people have been lost in the haze of alcohol. Sung a cappella, Rosalie’s version of the song cuts directly through to the heart.

Rosalie Sorrels & Mike Regenstreif (1993)
The other highlights include a powerful version of Bruce “Utah” Phillips’ “Rock, Salt and Nails,” a bitter song Bruce always refused to sing himself; “Hall of Fame,” Joe Dolce’s declaration of independence from the commercial music business; and Mitch Greenhill’s “Brightwood Fire,” about the thoughts and feelings running through the head of an insomniac unable to sleep.

With reissues of Travelin’ Lady and Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was now available, I’m waiting and hoping for a reissue of Moments of Happiness, now Rosalie’s only album from the 44 or so years that I’ve known her that has never come out on CD.

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--Mike Regenstreif


  1. Amen, brother! I sure want the CD of "Moments of Happiness." The last time Rosalie visited Jane and me in New Mexico, she asked me to do the song with her, but I couldn't retrieve it from the deep memory banks. It was during the time I was on the road with her, 1971-72, that Rosalie worked up those piano-based songs - "Nobody's," "Elegant Hobo," and "Moments ..." - but she wisely recorded them with pianists who were more accomplished than I was at the time.

  2. Amen, too, to all your praise of Rosalie's early 1970s albums. Rosalie is backed by the northern California country-rock band Frontier, led by Mitch Greenhill and Mayne Smith, on "Travelin' Lady." The band has just the right degree of roughness about it to match Rosalie's style. "Whatever Happened..." was produced by Michael Cuscuna in Woodstock. It has a more carefully designed sound, and Rosalie just soars, especially on the songs you singled out. Of course, I have very personal reasons to love these recordings, so it is terribly hard to be objective, but I'll still say that they are 1970s folk-rock masterpieces by one of the most distinctive singers of that time. I hope that everyone who has ever been touched by Rosalie's music will help her out by buying the reissue CDs.