Hello and welcome back to me. I've been away from here for a couple of weeks attending to family matters. Long story and none of your business. In the meantime, I also discovered two things: that I have incurred a massive credit card bill which needs paying off, and that I have a mountain of records, CDs and cassettes in the spare room that haven't even been glanced at in the previous decade. Folks, it's time for a cull. When I announced this to friends recently, they howled in protest that they couldn't believe I was selling all my records. I had to put the story straight: the records I'm selling don't even make a dent in the said mountain of records. Believe me, I have more audio recordings than I could listen to in a lifetime, so some of it has to go. I've got stuff to sell by: Royal Trux, Sun City Girls, Harry Pussy, Dead C., Mike Rep, Screamin' Mee Mees, Alastair Galbraith, Red Krayola, Merzbow, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Anthony Braxton, Derek Bailery, Yma Sumac, Mountain Goats, Unsane, Drunks With Guns, Scratch Acid, Brainbombs (first 3 7"s!), Crass, Grey Wolves, God Bullies, Cows, Sebadoh and many more. Some of these I have duplicates of on other formats (sorry, I go for nice & deluxe CD reissues over original vinyl these days, heathen that I am), some I realised I simply don't like anymore (Brainbombs, Dead C., Mountain Goats, Anthony Braxton's more abstract ventures) and most I simply haven't listened to for about 15 years and don't care all that much about anymore (Sun City Girls, Harry Pussy, Thinking Fellers Union). So, if you're at all interested in some or any of these items, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I've almost finished pricing the first batch of 7"s and LPs, and I'll shoot you through a list. Some of these records are pretty damn rare, so don't expect a bargain, but don't expect to pay through your teeth either. I've priced most of them somewhere in the medium range, so far as I see it (going by Gemm, ebay and Popsike rates), as I would actually like to see them sell. Just about every item is in "near mint" condition, too. I look after my stuff, and I expect you to do the same!
FOLKWAYS ON VINYLIf ever you needed proof that the Folkways label stands as one of the greatest imprints of them all, then look no further than the following releases. These titles had, until fairly recently, been out of print for a dog's age (several dogs, in fact); that is, until the Runt label out of San Francisco reissued them in LP form. They've been licensing from the Folkways label a few gems from the vaults, and I'm happy to report that they all hold up to scrutiny.
A friend noted recently that whilst he appreciated Folkways' achievements in documenting the weird, wonderful and unwanted recordings which the majors wouldn't touch w/ a barge pole, he also noted that that didn't necessarily imply that he wanted to listen to a great deal of what they released. Sure, the classic country/folk/blues/world recordings are items you'll give a spin on many an occasion, but the esoteric stuff, the spoken word albums, the sound effects recordings, they're for collectors and hopeless nerds inclined to hauling the ridiculous and unlistenable. Sorry, those last few sentences were a quote from someone else. They're not my words. Whilst I can't say I've given my copies of North American frog sounds or taxi drivers of Ghana and their "honk horn" music a great deal of airtime the past few years, I mighty glad they exist. And for the occasional, sublime listening experience, they will be played. The recordings Runt has chosen to reissue don't all necessarily fall within the absurdist realm of sound, and a couple you might even say are pretty darn accessible in their own way.
The one above was released in 1974 by Bilil Abdurahman East New York Ensemble de Music (yeesh, I shall call them BAENYEDM from now on, if I have to), and it documents a man and ensemble I know nothing about. I do know, however, that it rates as a first-rate '70s Spiritual Jazz disc, one which doesn't stray into the outer zone like some of its contemporaries (Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, et al), but one which never gets too mushy and caught in the New Age, either. Most of it essentially sounds like a mid '60s hard bop/modal jazz disc a la Blue Note w/ a heavy dose of Eastern spiritualism thrown on top. Some of the musicians hailed from the Carribean, and the vibes (as in the instrument, not the feeling) present also lend it that flavour. Abdurahman leads on soprano sax and Korean reeds, and he's backed up by another six players on instruments such as Turkish drum, African Twin-Gong and conga drums; there's four tracks, two of which stretch over the 10-minute mark, and it's cosmic jazz of a very high order. This is my pick of the bunch.
This one came as a surprise. It's entitled Jujus: Alchemy Of The Blues, performed by poet Sarah Webster Fabio w/ music backing by a funky outfit which consisted of several of her sons. Fabio was an academic and Black Power activist, friendly w/ Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, and this LP was curiously originally released in 1976, a fairly striking release for a time when America was getting all mellow and about to vote in Carter. Possibly given the limited finances, this possesses none of the sheen which was starting to gloss out the best funksters by the mid '70s, and is a raw, skeletal sound w/ tough rhythms and scratchy guitar licks. Fabio's vocals and poems work to effect, too, the one part of the recording I was fearing would fall flat on its face (possibly sounding too smug or self-righteous, or just plain dated in some of its sentiment). Her words are none of the above, and you can read them in the accompanying booklet. The band rips out an ace James Brown/Last Poets hybrid and her authoritative yet cooly delivered voice makes this one more than a mere curio item. Killer.
This one's a curio, and one I probably won't spin it as much as the others, but I'm glad it was documented at the time and made available once more. It was originally released in 1959 and puts to tape the music of half-a-dozen street-dwelling kids from Harlem - bongos and vocals - all edited together by one E. Richard Sorenson. The record is split into five seperate parts: Percussion Ensembles (bongos, sticks, drums), Rhythms With Voices, Rhythms With Verses, Songs and Rhythmic And Vocal Improvisations Rejecting Personal Experience. Given Folkways' political bent, much of this was, I'm guessing, an attempt to show the blight of the inner city in Amerika, and whilst I'll give props to such swell intentions, I'll give equal props for the fact that a lot of this is highly listenable on a strictly musical level. If you're partial to the exoticism of Ocora's field recordings, then get your head around the bongos & chant mania of this gang who reside a little closer to home. The Last Poets made themselves legends and drug addicts w/ this schtick a decade later. This version sung from the mouths of babes may just be your ticket, too.
And then there's the last one below. The great Michael Hurley is likely known to many of you out there. His catalogue of song - recorded over nearly the past 5 decades - ranks as one of the most erratic, bizarre and brilliant there be. He's an American institution, or at least would be if more than a handful of people had heard of him. I was a big nut for the guy in the latter half of the '90s and still pull such wares from the drawers on a semi-regular occasion. In hindsight, it remains a bizarre yet possibly true fact that for some reason I haven't written about his music once in this blog. Or have I? I'm up somewhere in the 600-mark of entries, so you might have to do my research for me. Back in the '90s, some of his best recordings, such as this Folkways LP from 1964, were completely unavailable to mere mortals and late-comers. I had to make do w/ the more easily-attainable (and equally as good) Rounder recordings and the cassettes which my old UK buddy Richard Mason supplied: he, too, was a mad fan and gave me several original Michael Hurley Fan Club cassette releases. I ain't selling them. In the past few years, I'm pretty sure all his prior hard-to-get titles have been reissued (some by cult nerds Mississippi Records, I believe), and if you're feeling curious, I'd recommend Long Journey and Snockgrass to just about anyone reading this, and most of all I'd recommend 1976's Have Moicy!, Hurley's high point which was recorded w/ his old Greenwich Village freak-folk buddies the (Un)Holy Modal Rounders (so-called due to the absence of member Steve Weber) and others. Heck, even the clueless puds at Rolling Stone gave it props, voting it one of the top 20 releases of the 1970s. It's one of the best party records I own. The record itself sounds like a party, a drunken, rambling one. One in which I would like to attend. It's combination of offbeat humour and rag-tag country/folk/rock/blues rates it as one of the greatest examples of sublime Americana put to tape. It should be held in the same esteem as The Band's early discs or Creedence's finest output, though begging for it to break out of its cult status this late in the game is too much to ask. Hurley's music is not easy to describe. His basic modus operandi isn't a world removed from the likes of Dylan, musically speaking (folk singers caught in the world of rock who still give nods to classic 1930s country-blues), though his lyrics inhabit a seperate universe. They're more Edgar Allen Poe than Woody Guthrie, fused with stories of werewolves and vampires and bizarre imagery, psychedelia w/out the fancy studio trickery. It's a hoot. Now, that brings me to this disc, First Songs, credited to Mike Hurley. It features only Hurley on vocals, guitar and violin. The music is stripped back to the bones (some of these tracks would later surface slightly augmented w/ a backing group on later releases), presenting Hurley and his nonchalant vocals as a voice like no other in his time. This has been out of print forever, and like all these reissues, it comes in a paste-on sleeve just like its original issue, complete w/ inserts. Runt has also reissued on vinyl some excellent Folkways discs by Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb and Elizabeth Cotten - musicians I've written about before on this blog - and if you've got the spare change, you oughta take the plunge on the lot of 'em.