If you like the us masters of late-’60s baroque romance?Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson, David Gates, Jimmy Webb, Nilsson and Richard Carpenter, even cultier orch-poppers like Michael Brown and Curt Boettcher?then you’ll love this long-forgotten debut album of lushly produced angst-muzak by Bergen White. Released in 1970, For Women Only was a commercial disaster, and yet for exquisitely crafted misery it merits contention alongside such huge-selling examples of the form as Aerial Ballet, Bread and A Song For You.
It would suit this music’s sumptuous sadness, and elevate the artist to the tragic pantheon, if it transpired that White was a victim of his own tortured perfectionism who went mad and disappeared after his one beauteous stab at greatness. Alas, such amateur myth-mongering has no place here. White enjoyed some success in the years leading up to his sole solo foray as a touring and recording singer-musician with Tennessee’s own exponents of surfin’n’hotrod pop The Daytonas, while after For Women Only he became one of the most sought-after and prolific guns-for-hire in country’s capital city, providing arrangements for everyone from Presley, Duane Eddy and Glen Campbell to Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and Dolly Parton.
White is so gorgeously gloomy, though, with his gentle choirboy tenor the actual sound of desolation and heartbreak, it’s almost a shame he didn’t lose it big-style. Not that these dramatically scored ballads, performed by White and members of renowned Nashville wrecking crew Area Code 615, need any back-story to blow you away. He may have been married and divorced five times to date; nevertheless, For Women Only is no Blood On The Tracks, even if one of the titles, “The Bird Song”, concerns the murder of a girlfriend.
Rather it is a sort of melancholy muscle-flexing exercise; pure art ache. Throughout, White proves his mastery of studio techniques and song construction learned from his heroes Bacharach and Wilson and encouraged by the advances made by Webb, even Neil Young. Imagine a whole album’s worth of “Expecting To Fly”s or “Didn’t We”s, all harpsichords, harmonies and haunting chord progressions.
Not just For Women Only?in fact, for everyone.