Singer-songwriter Penelope Houston is one of the seminal figures in San Francisco’s post-1976 music scene. She was an original founder of The Avengers, one of the best — if not the best — of the first wave of late-1970s Bay Area punk bands. After The Avengers’ split in 1979, Houston relocated to Los Angeles and, later, Europe. Returning to the Bay Area in the mid-1980s, she was ahead of the curve again, embracing gentler, roots-y and folk-oriented sounds that held some of the fervency — though not always the fury — of the punk era. Houston’s ninth album, On Market Street, is a further refinement of her restless, poignant, folk-rock approach.
With its sleek production, undulating beat, jazz-tinged piano, bluesy organ, and playfully but definitely scornful vocals and lyrics, “All the Way” could almost be a late-1970s Carly Simon hit single that never was. The Band-like “You Reel Me In” is a harrowing view of a hellish relationship (or a succession of them), accented by stinging electric guitar and an aching “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”-like chorus, Houston’s voice bristling with hurt and hard-won insight. “Winter Coats” conveys the ecstasy and ambivalence of a wintertime romance, the music suggesting the melancholic Brit folk-rock of Nick Drake and Sandy Denny. The string-driven “Meet Me in France” has a baroque feel, akin to The Left Banke and early Bee Gees.
Houston’s plainspoken, slightly misty vocals evoke the Marianne Faithfull of the 1960s and a cross between The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs and Nico. Houston’s Market Street is rife with lyrical, captivating catharsis. (Devoted Ruins)