Our friends at Real Gone Music have long been combing the vaults of the major labels in search of overlooked classic albums that deserve another moment in the spotlight. The Second Disc was able to take a listen to one of the label's newly reissued limited-edition titles - Norma Tanega's Walkin' My Cat Named Dog - which returns to vinyl in a special bright-green color variant. Tanega's folky '60s pop has found new life on TV shows and compilations, but her debut has never been reissued on vinyl. Now, a new audience of music lovers can appreciate the artist's craft when they pick up one of the 1,000 limited-edition units.
Norma Tanega was discovered by Herb Bernstein (arranger of Laura Nyro's debut LP More Than a New Discovery), who caught wind of her summer camp concerts in the Catskills Mountains in New York. Her angular melodies, alternate tuned guitars, and talent for pop songcraft made her a standout in 1966, a time when relatively few women in popular music were writing and recording their own compositions. Bernstein got her a deal with Bob Crewe's New Voice Records and it was Walkin' My Cat Named Dog that brought her to public attention. Aside from the originals she wrote on her own, Walkin' also featured a number of collaborations with Norma Kutzer. Soon, Tanega's songs were reinterpreted by the likes of Barry McGuire, The Jazz Crusaders, Art Blakey, and more while Norma herself landed appearances on American Bandstand and Where The Action Is. But stardom, while not out of reach, was not to be. She fell in love with England while doing some promotional gigs, and eventually started a life there living with Dusty Springfield, who championed her compositions. Tanega released one other album before returning to the States, but it's that debut that contains some of her most well-known work.
The album kicks off with "You're Dead," a song about the down-trodden that's found new life as the theme to FX's What We Do In the Shadows. With a syncopated rhythm, unusual shifts in time signature, and frantic, bluesy guitar work, the track demonstrates many of the key characteristics that make Tanega's work so compelling. "Treat Me Right" explores similar territory, alternating between minor-tinged verses and a jubilant gospel chorus complete with organ solo.
"Waves," meanwhile, shows Tanega embracing the baroque-folk leanings of the day, at times channeling her contemporary Ruthann Friedman ("Windy"). The lyrics extoll the virtues and inherent freedom of nature, and are paired with a delicate yet increasingly upbeat blend of guitar, harpsichord, woodwinds, and drums.
"No Stranger Am I" is another highlight, a delightful alternate-tuned acoustic guitar ballad. Tanega's vocal lies veiled in reverb behind a light harpsichord line and orchestral flourishes. The track features some Joni Mitchell-like chord changes, and precise fingerpicking, evoking the ethereal sound of the former's "Marcie," which would be released two years later. One wonders what influence Walkin' My Cat Named Dog may have had on Mitchell and the growing number of songwriters and singers who would, later in the decade, find that stardom that Tanega never seemed to attain.
That's not to say that Walkin' My Cat Named Dog is without hits. Indeed, the most well-received track from the album is the title track with its jaunty rhythm, jangly pop backing, catchy country harmonica support, an infectious melody, and uplifting (if somewhat nonsensical) lyrics. Tanega performed the radio-friendly folk-pop record on a number of television performances, and eventually "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog" hit No. 22 on the Billboard Pop chart in 1966, and even hit the top ten in Canada.
The album's other lead single, "A Street That Rhymes at 6 A.M." opens Side Two. Its arrangement blends many of the key features of Tanega's writing: a memorable melody, bluesy guitar riff (reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well"), and a perky arrangement that was made for AM radio.
Tanega further explores those blues influences with a rendition of "Hey Girl" (not the Goffin and King soul standard). Though the song, also known as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" or "In The Pines," dates back to the 1800s, Tanega takes inspiration from Lead Belly's version with a slow, mournful rendering.
Add to it the joyous waltz "I'm the Sky," the jazzy and distant "Don't Touch," a warlike march called "What Are We Craving," and an evocative guitar ballad "I'm Dreamin' A Dream," and the result is a dozen prime examples of folky introspection (before it became en vogue) and mementos of the baroque pop era.
While Walkin' My Cat Named Dog has seen a CD reissue before (only once, on the Collectables label in 1998) and is even available on streaming services, the album has never seen a vinyl reissue. The existing digital version is a distorted, sibilant mess. Real Gone's green vinyl reissue presents the original stereo mix much more clearly, and provides a dynamic experience that serves both the rich arrangements and intimate guitar pieces. Visually, the Real Gone LP is a stunner, too. While Collectables opted to use new cover art on their version two decades ago, Real Gone has restored the original 1966 artwork. They've matched the bright green text with a bright green vinyl pressing that sounds quiet and looks flat, and new green labels boasting the New Voice logo.
Real Gone Music's reissue of Walkin' My Cat Named Dog presents a lost classic to new audiences who can finally appreciate the richness of Norma Tanega's work in an exceedingly enjoyable presentation. You can purchase your copy on Amazon with the following links: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada!
Disclaimer: The Second Disc's reissue arm, Second Disc Records, is an imprint of Real Gone Music.