The return of Bonnie Dobson to the singing spotlight with a rich new album is one of the more surprising but satisfying events of recent times, giving modern audiences a chance to hear one of the most distinctive voices of the epoch-making 1960s folk boom. Maybe it’s because she has taken several decades off from singing since the 1970s, but 2013’s “Take Me For A Walk In The Morning Dew” saw Bonnie still sounding as crystal-clear and strong as she did on the four albums she recorded for Prestige in the early 60s.
Bonnie was one of the four female folk singers written about in the landmark 1961 Time magazine feature, which also focused on Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Carolyn Hester. Back then, the idea of a guitar-toting female singer swerving their usual placing in the country market to sing songs being passed around the folk grapevine was something of a novelty. Striking out on her own in a musical field inevitably dominated by males and about to be revolutionised by a new arrival called Bob Dylan, Bonnie was an innocent trailblazer, always stressing she was simply following her love of the folk form, rather than seeking the kind of stardom soon to be foisted on performers such as Peter, Paul and Mary. She even wrote a classic in her first attempt at songwriting, getting an early taste of music biz skulduggery when Tim Rose claimed authorship of her chilling post-holocaust missive ‘Morning Dew’ in 1967.
At the age of 73 Bonnie is still active and revelling in curling the undimmed purity of her voice around the songs she started out on and began writing in the early 60s. She says she was excited to hear about this reissue of her first LP but also “really very pleased because no one ever bothers with my Prestige albums. I don’t remember there being any promotion at the time. There were a few ads in Sing Out! but they were not heavily promoted at all.”
Now the album sounds like an alien broadcast beamed in from another, less-tainted time, brimming with dark folklore undercurrents going back centuries. One young woman and her guitar, captured in the perfect studio. “It was so different then,” sighs Bonnie. “It was just me and my guitar and I was just doing what I would normally do if I was standing on stage at some folk club. It’s hard to imagine that now.”