The Space Lady - The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits (4 stars)

The Space Lady - The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits

Anthology from 70s / 80s US outsider-pop diviner is curious, rare and full of wonder

(Night School Records)

‘My musician parents lived in Roswell, New Mexico, around the time of the famous flying saucer crash in 1947, and I was born the following January.’ So begins the fascinating, other-worldly biog of Susan Dietrich, a 70s / 80s outsider-pop diviner who, armed first with a squeezebox and then with a battery-operated Casio keyboard, performed astral cover versions on the streets and subways of Boston and San Francisco. Clad in a winged helmet with a flashing red bulb, she came to be known as The Space Lady.

Those opening words are also the first lines in the sleeve-notes of The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits, an entrancing, ethereal retrospective of Dietrich’s electronic pop recordings from that time, including a celestial, disorientating take on Peter Schilling’s ‘Major Tom’, a woozy, lo-fi variation on The Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and a haunting, robo-cowboy reworking of rodeo classic ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’.

Released via Night School Records (Julia Holter, Golden Grrrls, DIVORCE), the LP also features original songs – gorgeous tech-pop aria ‘Humdinger’; orbital ballad ‘Synthesize Me’ – written by The Space Lady’s collaborator / then-partner Joel Dunsany (aka Mount Helium Pegasus). The anthology makes for a long-overdue salute to The Space Lady’s mercurial underground talent, which has found zealous champions in Erol Alkan and John Maus, and has seen her aligned with Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart, Joe Meek and Jandek on Irwin Chusid’s 2000 outsider collection, Songs in the Key of Z.

The Space Lady’s sleeve-notes go on to tell of a life spent raising a family, and struggling to make ends meet from art – a colourful tale of love and pop and sleeping rough; of draft-dodging and DIY cassettes and cosmic intervention (‘we saw a UFO at close range, just above the treetops … and from then on we were convinced we were being watched and protected by aliens’). The Space Lady’s music is just as curious, rare and full of wonder.

The Space Lady | Major Tom | 1990