Listeners who picked up Ember Records’ 1970 LP Future Star Explosion – New Faces of the ’70s might have been beguiled by the third track on the second side. The lightly psychedelic “Sunshine in My Rainy Day Mind” introduced the captivatingly ethereal voice of singer Polly Niles. Yet those looking for more of Niles, a New York-born, conservatory-trained performer, would have been disappointed. “Sunshine” remained her only released track for decades, until labels in the CD era began mining the Ember vaults for lost gems. Soon, her renditions of familiar songs like “For What It’s Worth” and “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” were uncovered. It turns out that Niles recorded an entire album for Ember in London and New York, working with producers David Niles (her then-husband) and Beau Ray Fleming, and arranger-conductor Bert “Super Charts” DeCoteaux (known for his work with The Main Ingredient, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, and countless others). Now, Cherry Red’s Grapefruit Records imprint has brought Niles’ original, long-shelved Ember LP Sunshine in My Rainy Day Mind to CD in a deluxe, expanded edition.
Recorded in late 1969 and early 1970, the eclectic album seemed designed to showcase as many sides – and voices – of the artist as possible. On an orchestrated folk-pop version (with backbeat and all) of Neil Young’s Buffalo Springfield-era “I Am a Child,” Niles reminds one of an earthier Judy Collins; she also tackled Stephen Stills’ aforementioned Springfield track “For What It’s Worth” with sincerity. Her folk roots (she was, at one point, married to Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and performed with him onstage) shone through on a number of tracks such as the lightly funky, urbane R&B treatment of the traditional “East Virginia” and an earnest if not completely successful version of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” complete with violins ready for a hoedown. Best of the folk-inspired tracks may be “The Milk of the Tree,” penned by composer John Barry and lyricist Dorothy Wayne. It’s a cinematic version of folk, for sure, but Niles’ winsome delivery brought out the most in Barry’s haunting melody based on “Troubadour,” the instrumental B-side of his United Artists single release of “Goldfinger.”
Niles’ pop side was also explored via the cool, detached treatment of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang” with swirling strings and a vocal far-removed from Cher’s full-throated original as well as the obligatory Bob Dylan cover (“I Shall Be Released”) and a thunderous, Spector-ized version of Goffin and King’s bittersweet “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
Two of Niles’ own compositions gives an idea what the flavor of a singer-songwriter album from her might have been like. “If I Let You” is a buoyant reminder that “You could be the one I love…if I let you.” It was given a big, blue-eyed soul production worthy of Kiki Dee or the young Lulu, whom Polly vocally channels a bit on Tony Macaulay and John MacLeod’s brassy pop ballad “Since I Lost You Baby” (previously recorded by Long John Baldry). Polly’s other original tune here is “Get High on Jesus,” a full-on, piano-driven gospel outing that sonically doesn’t resemble anything else on the LP.
Bonuses on Disc One include proposed mono single mixes of “Since I Lost You Baby” and “The Milk of the Tree,” and a further four mono mixes from the DeCoteaux/Fleming sessions in New York (“If I Let You,” “East Virginia,” “I Am a Child,” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”). The second disc of this collection boasts alternate versions of almost every track from the original album, including early versions with sparse instrumentation, variant mixes without overdubs, new 2019 mixes, and additional mono masters. The stripped-down tracks offer a fascinating window onto the production of the tracks and a further chance to appreciate the strength of Niles’ expressive vocals.
This beautiful package has been lovingly overseen by compiler Charles Donovan, who also provides the fascinating essay drawing on a new interview with the artist. Paul Bowler has designed the attractive, full-color 16-page booklet while Tim Debney has superbly remastered from sources including the original album master tape, mono masters, the original multitracks, and in the case of the eight tracks that open Disc Two, a second generation tape. While some of the information pertaining to the sessions remains a mystery, Donovan has helpfully annotated each track with as much detail as possible; it’s clear that a great deal of time and love went into this excavation of an album that would have otherwise likely remained lost.
Polly Niles continued her show business career for a time, acting in commercials and in films including Superfly. Her song “If I Let You” wound up on an Ember album by another singer-actress, Carol Woods, while “Get High on Jesus” received covers from Dorothy Morrison, Milly Scott, and The U.S. Apple Corps (no relation to The Beatles’ famous label). Sunshine in My Rainy Day Mind remains Polly’s only solo album, but as a document of a particular time and place when anything was possible for a young artist with an inclination for pop music and its many facets, it’s one to savor.
It’s available now at the links below!
- I Am a Child
- East Virginia
- Bang Bang
- I Shall Be Released
- If I Let You
- I Walk the Line
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow
- Since I Lost You Baby
- The Milk of the Tree
- For What It’s Worth
- Sunshine in My Rainy Day Mind
- Get High on Jesus
- Since I Lost You Baby (Mono Unreleased Single Mix)
- The Milk of the Tree (Mono Unreleased Single Mix)
- If I Let You (Mono)
- East Virginia (Mono)
- I Am a Child (Mono)
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow (Mono)
- Sunshine in My Rainy Day Mind (First Version)
- East Virginia (First Version)
- If I Let You (Final Mix from 16-Track)
- Sunshine in My Rainy Day Mind (4-Track Experiment from Unmixed Rhythm Track)
- East Virginia (Final Mix from 8-Track)
- I Am a Child (Final Mix from 8-Track)
- Sunshine in My Rainy Day Mind (Final Mix from 8-Track)
- Get High on Jesus (Final Mix from 8-Track)
- Since I Lost You Baby (2019 Mix)
- The Milk of the Tree (2019 Mix)
- For What It’s Worth (2019 Mix)
- I Walk the Line (2019 Mix)
- I Shall Be Released (2019 Mix)
- Bang Bang (2019 Mix)
- For What It’s Worth (Mono)
- I Walk the Line (Mono)
- I Shall Be Released (Mono)
- Bang Bang (Mono)
CD 1, Tracks 4-8, 12 previously unreleased on CD
CD 1, Tracks 13-18 previously unreleased
CD 2, Tracks 1-16 & 18 previously unreleased