If the Mamas and the Papas always sounded autumnal, Elliot's solo work leaned towards...
Jaime Gill 2005-03-23
If there was one criticism to make of last year's otherwise excellent Mamas and Papas box set, it was that it skirted so briefly over 'Mama' Cass Elliot's solo career. The release of Dream A Little Dream Of Me is therefore welcome, going a long way towards filling that gap, and proving- if it ever needed proving - that Mama Cass was one of pop's few truly sublime singers.
It's also a well timed release. If the Mamas and the Papas always sounded autumnal, with their wistful and melancholic harmonies, Elliot's solo work leaned towards the brash sunny optimism of spring. These songs were mostly released in 1969, the year the hippy dream was horrifically unravelling thanks to Altamont and the Manson family, but Elliot still sang as if utopia was just around the corner.
The song titles say it all; "Good Times Are Coming", "It's Getting Better" and "Make Your Own Kind Of Music" are all breathlessly happy, lifted by Elliot's soaring vocals and the jauntiest of musical arrangements. Lyrically, they are highly Californian hymns to following your dreams, no matter how unlikely, and as such are given a particular conviction by the fact that the overweight Elliot had herself become such an unlikely pop star.
Of course, like California itself, all this dazzling brightness can become a little wearing after a while, and by the time "Listen To The World" appears the experience is a bit like having candy floss forced down your throat. Not even Elliot's voice can rescue songs like "Don't Let The Good Life Pass You By" from jangling blandness.
No wonder the most rewarding songs here are the ones where Elliot varies the tone a little. There's the low-key folk of "California Earthquake" - the only track here which hints at a darker future - and there's the hallucinatory, languid "Disney Girls", both seductive and somehow unsettling.
But even if everything else here was second rate, the title song alone would make it worth the price. "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" has been covered countless times, but Elliot's drowsy, blissful rendition remains the definitive version. Take it somewhere sunny and see in the spring with it.