I had high hopes for a reissue of a hard to find 1970 album by the great Minnie Riperton, Come To My Garden. Given that it had the “RSD Essentials” hype sticker on it, I expected something special. For me, it was not…
This album is Minnie’s solo debut after leaving the great band Rotary Connection and it is a highly regarded affair, perplexing in its obscurity. Produced and arranged by the great Charles Stepney, Come To My Garden features the equally great Ramsey Lewis on Piano as well as some members of his band from that period. Stepney had in fact produced and arranged Lewis’ fantastic 1968 release Mother Nature’s Son (an album entirely covering tracks from The Beatles’ then brand new White Album) so its not a surprise that Come To My Garden bears some of that same vibe.
Musically, Come To My Garden is a wonderful album, a swirling slice of post-psychedelic symphonic pop ‘n soul which fits in the late ‘60s vibe perfectly. Stepney’s adventurous arrangements lend a rich bed for Riperton’s emotive singing, delivering many unexpected shimmering twists and turns. This album is kind of like what might have happened had Minnie thrown a stoned soul picnic with Jimmy Webb, The Fifth Dimension, Laura Nyro and Barbara Streisand.
So what is my problem about this reissue?
Well, first lets talk about the pressing…
My copy had quite a bit of rollercoaster warping going on… it played ok but for $30 I expect an album to have some sense of stability. The bigger problem was that my copy was seriously off center on one side. That killed it for me as it made Minnie’s voice and Stepney’s orchestral arrangements waver quite a bit, especially on tunes like the title track which has lots long held orchestral string notes, horns and celestial harmony vocals which sway in and out of tune due to this problem.
The album does come with a nice gatefold like the very rare first pressings from 1970. Yet, the physical record itself is graced with a simple white label with plain text which makes it look like a cheap pirate/bootleg. They could have at least tried to recreate a likeness of the old original GRT Records label.
Overall the reissue of Come To My Garden sounded pretty good but at times I wondered if I was hearing a record of a record — aka, a “needle drop.” This sounds a hair brighter than my 1974 Janus Records second pressing so some equalization no doubt went into the making of this album but overall there is an odd muted flavor over-riding the whole album. There were moments where I felt like I was hearing groove distortion that wasn’t part of the new album pressing, if that makes sense.
Now, this could be on the new album. Or it may be on the original recording. For example, on my 1974 second edition (the first reissue, on Janus Records) on “Rainy Day In Centerville,” there is some hot distortion, perhaps a result of poor mastering back in the day or maybe a pressing glitch. This new edition has that same issue but its been reined in quite a bit.
There is no information on the album as to what the sources are for making this reissue.
Anyhow, now we come to the big question: do you need to own this RSD Essentials reissue of Come To My Garden? That, Dear Readers, depends on your budget and how important it is to have an original.
If you can get this edition inexpensively, it might well do the trick for some of you. I paid about $30 for mine which is just expensive enough to make me question it. That said, at the time of this writing, there were just a handful of 1974 editions on Discogs and all are going for upwards of $80-$100 each (there is only one GRT first pressing available in the US there selling for about $300). So, yes, it is very much an “in-demand” album.
If you really like Minnie and money is no object, it might be worth spending the coin on one of these earlier editions. But if you want to see the original gatefold cover design and don’t mind possible sonic anomalies and ambiguities, this new reissue might just do the trick until you find an original.
Either way its a great album so whatever way you listen, give Come To My Garden a spin.