Songs for a Friend are the six forgotten tracks you’ve never heard, and Linda Bruner is the folk legend you’ve never met. Allow me to introduce you.
Back in 1970, fresh off a stint with the psych-rock band Pisces, a teenage Bruner went to the back of Nielsen’s Music Store in Rockford, IL to cut a homemade, acoustic mixtape for a now anonymous friend. In one continuous jam session, Bruner and Pisces’ guitarist Jim Krein laid down five unrehearsed, bluesy folk renditions of classic recordings from the likes of Ray Charles and The Beatles. These six songs—five covers and one bonus Bruner-written original—are time capsules that preserve a brief moment of creativity between Bruner and Krein. Each reveals an unpolished imagination from an artist who never got her chance to shine.
Thankfully, modern-day fingerprints didn’t smudge the recording’s special character. Originally marked as Linda’s Tape for Friend, The Numero Group discovered and reissued the compilation with its charming imperfections in tact. Bruner’s heavy, sullen voice cracks. A lulling hiss lurks behind her vocals. Back and forth banter between Bruner and Krein pops up throughout the recording. Where the five earlier tracks were polished for the public, Bruner’s re-creations were spit-shined. Hers are the intimate, barefooted versions. There is no special engineering, no bells or whistles, just a woman, her guitar, and her heart. And in Songs for a Friend, her heart is carrying a heavy load.
When John Lennon led The Beatles in “Don’t Let Me Down,” their 1969 hit written for Yoko Ono, they released an up-tempo pop tune with steady percussion and a vulnerable cool. Linda Bruner, however, cuts at the surface of their rock star love ballad to make the song bleed. Her rendition is intoxicated with a fierce love that doesn’t just request of her lover, “don’t let me down,” she nearly begs it. On Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” Bruner scribbles all over Campbell’s symphonic, stiff-collared country. Her drenched voice wrings out an unkempt version that quivers and shakes with candor.
A rare glimpse of daylight on the otherwise brooding recording is introduced on Bruner’s interpretation of “Georgia On My Mind.” When Ray Charles sang it, he placed Georgia down on a tidy bed of blues, but Bruner cradles herself, singing like it’s therapeutic to release sound from her throat. On the last track, “Rainy Night in Georgia,” Bruner spews a sultry sadness in the chorus, and then tells Krein mid-song to, “start it over, I got an idea.”
Unfortunately, the album abruptly ends before she guides the melody to its new direction—an abandonment that’s ironically similar to her career in music, as Songs for a Friend is believed to be Linda Bruner’s last known recording. Some accounts state that she has been in hiding for years, reportedly on the run for fraud, which is a tough ending to swallow after hearing this album’s unforgettable display of authenticity.