Luke has done it again. Since his music found its way to the ear of Kyle Spence (of Harvey Milk) it has evolved from gritty road-written dirt-rock ballads to lush, personal sing-alongs. Some even have more than three chords. But the haggard atmosphere is still there, read: “His Song”, a slow and steady song about blaming the blood of Jesus for causing pain and searching for where to belong. These tunes recall last year's Big Bells & Dime Songs but with a bit more energized angst. Tracks like “I Don’t Want You Anymore” and “Every Time” shed the heavy rhythms but add touches of fiddle and mandolin alongside some harmonies, and if you’re not singing these in your sleep after two listens you’re not human. Other tunes like “Cartier Timepiece”, “Spree Wheels”, and “Second Place Blues” reveal more intricate sides to Luke’s songwriting, carefully fingerpicked tunes that would sound almost too good if it weren’t for Luke’s scraggly, deconstructing voice. I absolutely love this music and both of Luke’s records. It’s the kind of stuff I wish was in my orange juice in the morning and my beer at night. Recommended always.
This here release is a cassette-only compilation of various genre-spanning musicians paying homage to America’s favorite forebears of folk music. All of the tracks (except “The Poor Orphan Child”) were recorded live by Markly Morrison, of the Washington-based outfit LAKE, on shitty consumer-grade tape recorders. Most of this stuff comes out of the Pacific Northwest, and the intimate, honest 90 minutes Morrison caught on tape are nothing short of mesmerizing. LAKE’s own “Lonesome Valley” is absolutely chilling; the group recorded it in a walking-ballad fashion. Another highlight is Ray Raposa (of Castanets) and Morrison doing a very quiet “Answer to the Weeping Willow”. But of course it’s not all whimsical folk; check out The Family Stoned for a raucous take on “Wouldn’t Mind Dying”, or Lazer Zeppelin for a delayed-and-fuzzed-out electric organ take on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. “The Dying Mother” is a spacey sacred steel instrumental, and Dennis Driscoll’s opening a cappella version of “Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow” comes complete with cars flying by on the highway. This track possibly best captures the sporadic and lo-fi nature of these recordings; the track itself, because of a tape malfunction, is sped up to where Dennis sounds more like Denise. The arguable father of cassette culture, R. Stevie Moore, also appears here doing “Little Darlin’ Pal of Mine”. It may seem obvious, but Markly’s insistence on capturing these tunes in their starkest and evolving forms is a truly appropriate homage to the Carter Family, and especially A.P’s efforts to document the songs of common people and mold their varied voices into a solidified musical heritage.
“There were supposed to be four volumes you know, like for earth, air, fire: red, blue, yellow and green.” – Harry Smith
In 1952 Smith purposefully altered the future of both American music and culture in general with the release of his Anthology of American Folk Music. That compilation was, is, and will continue to exist as a Bible, an encyclopedia, a declaration of values for those who dish out the cash for it, and a generally timeless cultural monument. Smith was a classic weirdo, a maniacal collector of 78s whose rampant financial instability and eccentric tendencies left him consistently on the verge of homelessness. So it’s no surprise that after the anthology proper was released in '52, he sold the records that were to constitute this collection (and some others) to the NY Public Library, and lost his notebook of detailed historical records for those records. Furthermore, an argument with a Folkways staff member about whether to include a song about FDR’s reelection halted the project. Smith thought the song sucked, and in his words, “it was the, you know, whatever it’s called, immovable object meeting the irresistible force.” Flash forward to John Fahey’s Revenant Records, formed in ’96 and located in Austin, and finally the compilation sees the light of day. By now, most of these songs are widely available on other collections, but the experience of them together, as intended by Smith, is something approaching a religious one. Similarly to the original anthology, the music covers the scope of rags, blues, ballads, jug band tunes, fiddle tunes, etc. I encourage reading the liner notes for detailed info on the musicians and the worlds of this music, because it is an altogether foreign one to ours, maybe.
This here’s a scraggly collection of James Jackson Toth recordings pre-Wooden Wand/WW & The Vanishing Voice, mostly recorded at home and in a decrepit university basement at Purchase College called “The Cave” and originally released cerca 1996. Conveying the sound of this stuff requires quoting Toth at length:
“In the interest of full disclosure, I funded the record by ripping off my dad. My father had set me up with a meal plan at school, and it got around via art school junkie lore that if you requested a refund within the first two weeks of a semester, the school would give you a check for the difference. I remember receiving and cashing a check for over a thousand dollars, and using the money to press the LP. I didn’t eat a proper lunch for an entire semester, so I hope no one will take me to ask when I say I almost literally starved to make this record.”
That kind of juvenilia is what’s at play hear; a young free-jazz, noise and Jandek-obsessed record geek spewing premature creativity into a 4-track tape recorded. While some of it’s not “enjoyable”, none of it’s “bad.” For those familiar with Toth’s later work, this collection will serve as a primordial collage of what would grow into one of the strongest songwriting voices in the new weird whatever. For others, it will be just plain strange. Either way, it’s fun to listen to.