John Fahey

The Yellow Princess (Vanguard 1969)

http://www.mediafire.com/?nyiq2mhieod

There are so many facets of John Fahey’s career that it is hard to pick a favorite. I love Red Cross the best of his late period due to its exquisite mix of ambient smears and Gershwin and Irving Berlin Covers as well as the brass band excursions on Of Rivers and Religions. Of course, his early albums occupy a dear place in my heart due to their role in opening my eyes to the land of Folkways, Vanguard and a cadre of shaggy dog folkies and burnouts. However, The Yellow Princess is the one listened to most because it is positively overflowing with melancholy and members of Spirit are on hand to spin the bottle in some unforseen directions.

This rare collaboration pays dividends on “Dance of the Inhabitants of the Invisible City of Bladensburg” which begins with the crash of drums before transitioning into familiar finger picking until the coda breaks into a bluesy swagger. Spirit drummer Kevin Kelly also twists Fahey into new shapes on “March! For Martin Luther King” where a mournful, funereal beat keeps the time while a beautifully evocative series of strums pay tribute to a fallen hero. You can almost envision a casket being carried while the duo exorcised their sadness in song.

Fahey always had a predilection for odd musique concrete by way of the acoustic guitar. Some of my favorite tracks of America, Womblife and City of Refuge were his most unhinged, but “The Singing Bridge of Memphis, Tennessee” takes the cake. It sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the folksy meanderings, but a whistling refrain humorously mimics the cry of a train as spare percusssion mimics the chug of a broken down train. An ominous buzz hovers over the short instrumental and provides an eerie atmosphere to accompany the wholesome whistle that echoes throughout it. It ain’t much, but it has stuck with me long after it is removed from the stereo.

I guess The Yellow Princess stands out among the rest because it tackled new horizons for only a moment, but left me wanting so much more that was never fulfilled. Yes, he made countless other albums, but none quite like this.

Henry Cowell-Piano Music

July 29, 2008

Henry Cowell

Piano Music (Smithsonian-Folkways 1994)

Link removed at the request of Smithsonian-Folkways

It is difficult, almost impossible, to redefine an instrument as familiar as the piano, but Henry Cowell did so by reaching into it and using the strings to manipulate his playing. His work with tone clusters and string manipulation inspired Bela Bartok to adopt his methods. In addition, John Cage utilized his methods to develop the prepared piano. His maverick ways led him to commission Leon theremin to create an instrument called the Rhythmicon that was later popularized by Joe Meek. Cowell even spent four years in San Quentin Prison on a “morals” due to his bisexuality and continued to compose and conduct the prison band until his pardon in 1942. After his release, his music became a bit more conservative, but he mentored such musicians as Lou Harrison and Burt Bacharach and served as a consultant to Folkways.

That is just a drop in the bucket in this man’s fantastic and creative career. There is something so powerful about how he strikes the keys. Sometimes he demands your attention with thick clusters of slammed keys, but he is equally magnetic when he plays in a more minimalistic style. It is hard to quantify the emotion spent by the striking of a key, but his playing truly leaves me in awe of how one person can transform a musical instrument into a magical one. There is something elegant, yet brutal and severe about how he approaches the piano. He turns the piano inside out as he uses every inch of his instrument to create a powerful, dynamic music that inspires and moves me like few others can. Since I’ve been rambling about phobias and the spiritual all evening, it is only fitting that I share some of the most heavenly sounds thine ears have heard. It isn’t always pretty, but it does hit upon personal chords that remind me that music can be a transcendent force in our lives.

Various Artists

Ruckus Juice and Chittlins

http://www.divshare.com/download/4840211-e87

The jug maybe the the most versatile kitchen staple outside of the crafty spoon when it comes to making music. The saute pan was abandoned as a percussion tool during the Great Depression and the food processor was a failure from the start. My earliest memories of jug bands consist of offensive hillbilly stereotypes in Warner Brothers cartoons and Emmit Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. However, I always found something tragic, but comic about its flatulent “oom-pa-pa” refrains.

The only man to lift the jug to new heights was Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators who utilized an electric jug on their earliest forays into Texas psychedelia. Therefore, we are left with dusty 78s of the 20s and 30s to satisfy a craving for old-fashioned jug band music.

The Yazoo label is an excellent resource for the forgotten history of American folk, blues and country and its catalogue rivals anything found on the Smithsonian-Folkways series of albums. I’ve never heard of a single soul on this compilation and chances are you haven’t stumbled upon King David’s Jug Band or Cannon’s Jug Stompers (How’s that for a image!) either. There isn’t a mournful moment on the whole album. This is a music of celebration as these musicians draw upon or predate blues, folk, bluegrass, western swing and jazz to create a joyous clatter. It’s also interesting to hear how each artists utilizes the lowly jug in so many different ways. Some use it to imitate the human voice, others use it as a percussion instrument of sorts while some use it for comic relief. It provides such a distinctive sound that it makes you wonder why more bands haven’t adopted it today. Ruckus Juice and Chittlins documents a thoroughly American form of music and stands as one of the better comps on the Yazoo label.