Throughout the early ’70s, Carol Kleyn hovered around the fringes of various West Coast music scenes, playing her harp and singing simple, ethereal songs at festivals and on street corners. She rubbed elbows with famous musicians and kept working to land a record deal, but never got her big break, and by the time she self-released her 1976 debut album, Love Has Made Me Stronger, her trilling voice and chamber-music plucking were way out of sync with the times. Now rescued from obscurity and reissued by Drag City, Love Has Made Me Stronger isn’t some neglected masterpiece; it’s more like a faded copy of early Joni Mitchell, or of Fairport Convention at its most Euro-folkie.
But Kleyn has a remarkably expressive voice, comparable to Mitchell’s and Sandy Denny’s in its range and color, and Love Has Made Me Stronger shows off that voice in a variety of contexts, from the hippie-dippy sing-along “Love’s Goin’ Round” to the soulful, electric-piano-fueled “Well Glory Be.” Kleyn does a playful bird imitation on the childlike “Blackbird,” and she sings baroque-tinged songs like “Ode To The Monarch” that come out almost exactly the way anyone who’s ever been to a RenFest might expect them to. In short: Kleyn was a full-on flower child in ’76, and enjoying her lifestyle in ways that are infectious even now. (Or perhaps more now, given the nostalgic remove.) And though the songwriting on Love Has Made Me Stronger is rarely at the level of its influences, Kleyn’s intricate harp-playing on the dramatic instrumental “Street Song” and her richly emotional vocals on the soaring ballads “Mountain Child” and “Higher Than High” is pure and affecting, whatever the pedigree.