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Music Review: Billy Hallquist – Persephone

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Billy Hallquist was something of a local Minneapolis hero in the early seventies. He had played guitar with a couple of teen combos, then joined one of the earliest Christian rock bands, Good Idea. On the strength of a strong demo, Good Idea were signed to Roulette Records. Record label politics being what they are, Good Idea dropped the Christian angle, and changed their name to Thundertree soon after. Thundertree's lone album was released in 1970. By 1971, Hallquist was out and working on his solo debut.

Persephone is almost all Billy and his acoustic guitar. A couple of tracks feature backing vocals, (provided by friends) and there are a few overdubs. Otherwise, this is a Midwestern hippie, who sounds as if he is alone in his basement with the tape-recorder rolling.

"Desert Rats" is the disturbing introduction to Persephone, and reveals a mind preoccupied with thoughts other than those of peace and love. Things lighten up a bit on "You And I," a love song to a long gone ex-girlfriend. "Blanche" is similar to what Randy Newman was doing at the time. Hallquist's vocals even sound uncannily like Newman's. Side one of the original LP concluded with the  hippie sojourn "Smiling Lady." I imagine this one got all the coffehouse chicks excited, way back when.

"Help You Now" seems to be the intended hit. The song features drums, bass, electric guitars, plus backing vocals. It is also the catchiest tune here. "Smiley" should have been the B-side, it is perfectly in line with what was going on at the time by Lobo or Looking Glass.

The only lyrics reproduced on the cover were for "Buddha's Rosary." It is a pleasant enough song, but the words are incomprehensible. I would venture to say that this track goes a long way to explaining Persephone's reputation as a "druggy" record.

The album closes with the lengthy title song. The echo-filled production reflects the haunting desolation of the piece. "Please save me from my dream, I'm trying not to scream," sings Billy, and he seems to mean it.

The stark instrumentation, and obscure lyrics of Persephone have earned it a place of honor in post-psychedelic/folk circles. It was originally pressed on a private label called Orion. Persephone features one of the greatest album covers I have ever seen. The incredibly detailed ink drawing is stunning.

The Riverman label has reissued Persephone on CD with all of the original artwork intact, plus newly commisioned liner notes from Billy himself. The album may not be for everyone, but for fans of this type of music, Persephone is a classic.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Billy Hallquist

    Thanks for reviewing this rather obscure release. How did you come across it? Are you from the Twin Cities? Persephone lyrics were on the lp cover. They must have deleted them in order to keep words large enough to read. I didn’t even notice until I read your review. It’s funny you mention the album sounds like it was recorded in a basement. At the time, Sound 80 was a state of the art facility. A lot of famous albums, including half of “Blood on the Tracks”, were recorded in both of the studios I used. Scott Rivard went on to work with Prairie Home Companion as well as a multitude of other quality recordings. The sound I achieved was hampered by limited producer talents, not the facility. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to review this album.

    Billy Hallquist