Dorothy Moskowitz

Freewheeling through time and space, Kris Needs continues his adventures in sound. This month: Dorothy Moskowitz

It’s impossible to convey the seismic impact The United States Of America’s first and only album had on my 14-year-old brain in 1968. Initially unable to afford the requisite £1.60 for the LP, its single ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’ became the first 45 I ever bought.

Whiles Joseph Byrd’s twittering oscillators ignited its horror hothouse charge, singer Dorothy Moskowitz unleashed her spine-freezing mix of magisterial Grace Slick sensuality and icy Nico cool, describing a nightmare garden overgrowing with mutant death that haunted a girl’s eyes as a window into her hallucinogen-scorched soul.

The B-side’s ‘Love Song For The Dead Che’ caught Dorothy softly caressing Byrd’s poignant tribute to the fallen Cuban rebel icon over dreamy proto-synth clouds and electric violin. Soon the album compounded a lifelong obsession that placed The United States Of America next to The Velvet Underground as lowlife US sonic innovators.

As the binding sound of this landmark in electronically hot-wired avant-rock, it was assumed Dorothy would enjoy solo success when the band dissolved after its release. Instead, after voicing ‘Sesame Street’ cartoons, and singing with “Country Joe” McDonald and a jazz vocal set, she spent 30 years writing music for and teaching children and seemed to vanish until 2021’s novella soundtrack, ‘The Secret Life Of Love Songs’, with Tim Lucas.

Then, last month, renowned US imprint Tompkins Square released the spellbinding ‘Under An Endless Sky’, which manifested when veteran Italian avant-garde composer Francesco Paolo Paladino invited Dorothy, now 83, to reinterpret lyrics by writer Luca Chino Ferrari over his music.

Tangibly revelling in her typical experimental approach, that unmistakable voice sparks familiar tingles as it scythes through the 24-minute title track’s complex flowing drone, harmonium tones initially conjuring ‘Desertshore’ Nico before Dorothy embraces the swirling violins, woodwind and virtual textures with extraordinarily evocative results. The spell continues through life-reflecting reveries such as ‘Cut The Roots’, ‘My Doomsday Serenade’ and ‘Unknown To Ourselves’, adding jazz flavours and ghostly twinkles to the suggestive tapestries, with ‘My Last Year’ beautifully heisting ‘Something’s Coming’ from ‘West Side Story’.

So, 55 years since Dorothy Moskowitz stole my heart, I find myself swooning again to that unearthly voice, flying again over mesmerising musical backdrops.

And talking of electronic visionaries, Nina and I are giving her late creative partner Andrew Weatherall our own 60th birthday gift on 1 May in the under-the-radar tradition closest to his heart; an intimate free event celebrating his beloved Moine Dubh label at a disused Dorset church.

And that’s not all…

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