Saturday, June 15, 2024 
--archival-captured-cinematronic-continuity error-daily report-datastream-depth of field--
--drama-44.1 khz-gramophone-inquisitive-needle drops-picture book-twinklepop--
Neumu = Art + Music + Words
Search Neumu:  


edited by michael goldbergcontact

New Compilation Spotlights Forgotten Folk Guitar Heroes

In 1967, Takoma Records, the label started by the late blues-folk guitar innovator John Fahey, released Contemporary Guitar, a collection of tracks from 1960s finger-picking masters including Fahey himself, Max Ochs, Harry Taussig, Bukka White and Robbie Basho. That same year, that same season, one Joshua Rosenthal entered the world, and while he never became a guitar player himself, years later, when he was a record company executive, that LP became a touchstone, an inspiration and finally the launch pad for an ambitious guitar-centric project known as Imaginational Anthem. In this new album, Rosenthal collects acoustic guitar cuts from old artists and new, unearthing forgotten pickers like Suni McGrath and Steve Mann, revisiting acknowledged icons like Fahey, and drawing connections to latter-day guitar innovators including Cul de Sac's Glenn Jones, Pelt's Jack Rose, Kaki King, Harris Newman and Brad Barr. Accompanied by archival photos and extensive liner notes, the disc conjures a lost era of folk guitar playing and argues its continued relevance in the contemporary musical scene.

Rosenthal described finding the original Contemporary Guitar album in a used record store some years back and immediately sensing its possibilities: "I loved the Ochs and Taussig tracks and wanted to seek these men out," he explained recently, in an email interview. "It was so mysterious that there were no other instrumental recordings by them. Also, spring '67 is precisely when I was born, and I felt a weird cosmic connection to the album. I also like the way Bukka White is included as a nod to where American primitive guitar is derived from — rural blues."

Later, as he launched his label, Rosenthal got the idea to try to revisit the artists and sounds of Contemporary Guitar. Some of the artists had disappeared, others, including Fahey, had passed away. But others, such as Max Ochs, cousin of the more famous folk singer Phil Ochs, were relatively easy to locate. Max Ochs had been running an open-mic show at the Fabulous Coffeehouse in Annapolis, Maryland for years when Rosenthal came calling, and he responded immediately to the call for new material. "Max was the first guy I contacted. He agreed to come to NYC and record a new version of the title track, which is a '60s composition dedicated to John Fahey," Rosenthal said. "After the session, he told me he'd known about a '60s recording of 'Imaginational Anthem.' I traced that back to a 1969 session he cut with Fonotone Records."

Ochs was as surprised as anyone to learn about the older recording. "It was kind of embarrassing when Josh asked me if I had ever recorded 'Imaginational Anthem' and I said no," he recalled in a separate email interview. "Then he produces this old Fonotone record of me doing it," he said. "I still don't remember anything about it, except that I wrote it. Tape recorders at the time in my life were always or often going, I was always or often playing, didn't pay much care to it."

Ochs' two versions of the title track bookend the record, with the newer one kicking it off and the older one closing. Of the older cut, Ochs explained, "I was wearing fingerpicks all the time back then. Now I have been playing exclusively without picks, like for 30-some years. I like the old version's slip-quick tortoise texture that one obtains when wearing picks. At frantic fingers striving to keep the beat I smile. In spite of right-hand spasticity I am happy with the variety of ideas. The 1969 version fills my heart with recollections of the soaring spirits of the 1960s."

And yet, despite this nostalgic fondness, he said he preferred the newer, pickless version. "Playing with the fingernails and calloused fingertips gives me a softer, more varied menu of sounds. There is a nice immediacy and sense of control in playing with unclad fingers," he said. "The most shocking difference at first was the difference in tempo. Why did I play it so slow? Was I asleep? Should I record it again, slightly more up-tempo? But when I shake off those show-off clothes, and stop my ego-competing and being critical, dig it, then I can and have allowed myself to relax and just enjoy, and not be prejudiced against a perfectly good piece of music, just because I made it."

With Ochs' contribution locked up, Rosenthal went on to try to locate material from some of the remaining original players. Harry Taussig had recorded only one LP other than his track on Contemporary Guitar, the privately pressed Fate Is Only Once from 1965. His cut "Dorian Sonata" came from that long-lost recording, which Tompkins Square will be reissuing next year. John Fahey, whose presence looms large over the whole enterprise, would be represented by "Oh Holy Night" from his Christmas album of 1991. Of his now legendary presence, Ochs recalled, "I knew Fahey. We hung in and out of the same places houses, coffeehouses, studios. We blatantly studied him and he seemed not to mind. But he often did seem far away, and there seemed to be a demon that made him different, special like Thelonious Monk, some remote affect like almost like Asperger's Syndrome or some form of autism. He'd go into a spell when he played, rolling his head around with his eyes closed."

Fahey was gone, but several of the original artists were still alive, Rosenthal believed, and still, perhaps, able to record new material if only he could locate them. "I wanted to find Suni McGrath," Rosenthal said. "I was told by several people that he was deceased. I located him chatting on a Web site about the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1960. I also wanted to find Janet Smith — her last album of folk music was released in 1968 and I thought it'd be damn impossible to find someone with such a common name who might have married. But I searched and called her up, and she was running her own publishing outfit and taking care of legendary guitarist Steve Mann's affairs."

He added, "Another interviewer asked me if I thought I was re-discovering these guitar players the way Fahey and others re-discovered bluesmen in the '60s. My response was, those guys traveled down South and went door to door looking for people. It was hard work ! I have the Internet."

The final piece came when Rosenthal began inviting like-minded contemporary guitar artists to contribute to the project. "I was getting into a lot of modern-day players. I helped get Kaki King a deal at Epic Records. I was digging Jack Rose, people like that," he said. "So I saw the thread between the generations, even if the artists didn't know each other; for example, Jack never heard Suni McGrath, yet there is common ground in their approach. And when you listen to Max Ochs followed by Brad Barr on Imaginational Anthem, it could be the same artist, although they'd never heard of each other and are 35 years apart in age."

"Glenn Jones is wonderful," Ochs said, when asked about the younger players. "Sean Smith [who will appear on an upcoming second volume in the series], he's 24; he is awesomely quick to learn. He asked me to show him certain parts of 'Imaginational Anthem' and he got it right away. He's going to play it at the West Coast release event." Ochs added, "It's a tradition. We pass the dharma around like a football. Jack Rose and I both like to bow the guitar like a viola, with a piece of steel or glass."

The first Imaginational Anthem is now in the stores; a second volume, tentatively called Berkeley Guitar Scene, will showcase more finger-picking guitar music, including contributions from the very young, very talented Sean Smith. Rosenthal's label, Tompkins Square, will continue to be active on other fronts as well, releasing solo piano records from Charles Gayle and Ran Blake, as well as new work from folksinger Sharron Kraus and Christian Kiefer. And, in his spare time, Rosenthal is fielding a spate of offers from film and TV producers, asking to use the Imaginational Anthem tracks in a variety of settings. "The solo guitar stuff sets such an evocative, perfect backdrop for so many different situations. And the non-new age heft to the material gives the scenes a lot of substance," he said.

And though the music is timeless, Rosenthal speculated that Imaginational Anthem's release may have come at a particularly opportune juncture, as fans of psyche-folk continue to broaden their listening universe. "I am blown away by how much good music there is in the underground, in the genre now referred to as freak-folk or post-psych/folk — whatever the press wants to call it," he said. "A lot of the values and influences that artists had in the late '60s and early '70s are back in play. I took Jack Rose up to WNYU and the 19-year-old DJ was playing Dark Holler on Smithsonian and the Old Hat comp of '20s medicine-show tunes. Fursaxa, Earth, many solo guitar players like Shawn McMillen, James Blackshaw, etc., etc., all channeling something of that earlier music and spirit." He added, "I think the 'quiet is the new loud' slogan is apt — people are yearning for something that's meditative and introspective and literate. There's never been more of it than right now. Imaginational Anthem is as good an entry point as any." — Jennifer Kelly [Monday, January 30, 2006]

Alejandro Escovedo's Joyous Rebirth

John Vanderslice Kicks Genre

Paul Duncan's Elusive Pop

Stephen Yerkey's Wandering Songs

French Kicks Complete 'Two Thousand'

Spazzy Romanticism: Love Story In Blood Red

Brain Surgeons NYC Rock The Big Questions

Jarboe's 'Men' Charts Turbulent Emotions

Delta 5's Edgy Post-Punk Resurrected

Blitzen Trapper Spiff Things Up

Minus Five: Booze, Betrayal, Bibles and Guns

New Compilation Spotlights Forgotten Folk Guitar Heroes

Chris Brokaw's Experiment In Pop

Old And New With Death Vessel

Silver Jews: Salvation And Redemption

Jana Hunter's Beautiful Doom

Vashti Bunyan Finds Her Voice Again

Nick Castro's Turkish Folk Delight

Katrina Hits New Orleans Musicians Hard

Paula Frazer's Eerie Beauty

The National Find Emotional Balance

Death Cab For Cutie's New Album, Tour

Heavy Trash's Rockabilly Rampage

Help The Wrens Get Their Albums Released!

Devendra Banhart, Andy Cabic Launch Label

Lydia Lunch's Noir Seductions

Bosque Brown's The Real Deal

PDX Pop Now! Fest Announces Lineup

Sarah Dougher Starts Women-Focused Label

Jennifer Gentle's Joyful Psyche

Mountain Goat Darnielle Gets Autobiographical With 'Sunset Tree'

Mia Doi Todd's Beautiful Collaboration

Return of the Gang of Four

Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice

Brian Jonestown Massacre's Acid Joyride

Solo Disc Due From Pixies' Frank Black

Heartless Bastards' Big-Hearted Rock

Mike Watt's Midlife Journey

The Black Swans Balance Old And New

Nicolai Dunger's Swedish Blues

The Insomniacs' Hard-Edged Pop

Yo La Tengo Collection Due

Juana Molina's 'Homemade' Sound

Beans Evolves

Earlimart's Songs Of Loss

Devendra Banhart's 'Mosquito Drawings'

Negativland Rerelease 'Helter Stupid'

Alina Simone Transforms The Ordinary

Sounds From Nature: Laura Veirs

Octet's Fractured Electric Pop

Sleater-Kinney Working With Lips Producer

The Cult Of Silkworm

The Evolution Of The Concretes

Devendra Banhart's Exuberant New Songs

Catching Up With The Incredible String Band

Gram Rabbit's Desert Visions

Three Indie-Rock Stars Unite As Maritime

Remembering Johnny Ramone

Jarboe's Many Voices

Phil Elvrum's Long Hard Winter

First U.S. Release For Vashti Bunyan Album

Incredible String Band To Tour U.S.

New Music From Lydia Lunch

Le Tigre Protest The Bush War Presidency

Joel RL Phelps: Bleak Songs Rock Hard

Time Tripping With Galaxie 500

Patti Smith Wants Bush Out!

Sharron Kraus: A New Kind Of Folk Music

The Fiery Furnaces' Psychedelic Theater

Harder, Heavier Burning Brides

Sonic Youth's Ongoing Experiment

The Dt's Do It Their Way

Poster Children Cover Political Rock

Rare Thelonious Monk Recordings Due

Uneasy Pop From dios

Beck, Lips, Waits Cover Daniel Johnston

Understanding Franz Ferdinand

The Truly Amazing Joanna Newsom

Mylab's Boundary-Crossing Experiments In Sound

Have You Heard Jolie Holland Whistle?

The 'Magical Realism' Of Vetiver

The Restless, Rootsy Songs Of Eszter Balint

The Sun Sets On The Blasters

Devendra Banhart To Tour U.S.

The East/West Fusion Sounds Of Macha

Destroyer Gets Mellow For Your Blues

TV On The Radio Get Political

Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse To Play Lollapalooza 2004

New Music From The Fall

Apocalyptic Sound From The Intelligence

Fast And Rude With The Casual Dots

'Rejoicing' With Devendra Banhart

New Album, Tour From The Polyphonic Spree

Shearwater Take Wing

Sleater-Kinney To Tour East/West Coasts

Resurrecting Rocket From The Tombs

Visqueen Want To Get A Riot Goin' On

Lloyd Cole Makes A Commotion

Funkstörung's 'Cut-Up' Theory

Waiting For Mirah's C'mon Miracle

Electrelane Find Their Voice

The Television Is Still On!

Experimental Sounds From Hannah Marcus

The Ponys Play With Rayguns

Ex-Mono Men Leader Returns With The Dt's

Mountain Goats' Darnielle Adopts A More Hi-Fi Sound

Sun Kil Moon To Tour U.S., Europe

Nothin' But The Truth From The Von Bondies

Sultans Survive 'Shipwreck'

Sebadoh Reunite For Spring Tour

Xiu Xiu's 'Reality' Rock

Meet The Patients

Beth Orton, M. Ward Make Sadness Taste Sweet

Oneida's Pathway To Ecstasy

Radiohead, Pixies, Dizzee Rascal To Play Coachella

Young People Tour Behind War Prayers

Pixies Tour Dates Announced

Ani DiFranco Tells It Like It Is

Deerhoof Back For 2004 With Milkman

McLusky Set To 'Bring On The Big Guitars' Again

Pixies Reunite For U.S., European Tours

American Music Club, Decemberists To Play NoisePop 2004

Damien Rice Set To Tour U.S.

The Frames Accept Your Love

Punk Rock's A-Frames To Re-Record Third Album

Finally! Mission Of Burma Record New Album

A Solo Detour For Ladybug Transistor's Sasha Bell

Return Of The Old 97's

Spending The Night With Damien Rice

Tindersticks Reissues Due This Spring

The Evolution Of 'A Silver Mt. Zion'

Neil Young Rocks Australia With 'Greendale'

Poster Children Back In Action

'The Great Cat Power Disaster Of 2003'

Chicks On Speed's Subversive Strategies

Oranger At A Crossroad

Peaches On Tour And In Control

Jawbreaker's Complete Dear You Sessions To Be Released

Belle & Sebastian + Trevor Horn = Sunny Pop Nirvana

Von Bondies' Pawn Shoppe Heart

Descendents Are Back!

Modest Mouse Touring; Album Due in 2004

London Suede Take A (Permanent?) Break

Saul Williams Wants You To Think For Yourself

The 'Zen' Sound Of Calexico

Elliott Smith Dead AT 34

Debut Due From Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon

The Hunches: Music That'll 'Fucking Live Forever'

Vic Chesnutt Speaks His Mind

90 Day Men Cancel Tour

Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor Highlight SF Jazz Festival

For My Morning Jacket, It's The Music That Matters

EP Due From The Polyphonic Spree

Bright Eyes, Neva Dinova Collaborate On EP

The Rise & Fall & Rise Of Ben Lee

Catching Up With Cheerfully Defiant Tricky

Hanging Around With The Polyphonic Spree

Sophomore Album Due From The Shins

Noise Rock From Iceland's Singapore Sling

Death Cab To Tour U.S.

Rufus Wainwright's Want One Is 'Family Affair'

Death Cab's Transatlanticism On The Way

Heartfelt Rock From Sweden's Last Days Of April

The Minus 5 Get Down With Wilco

Tywanna Jo Baskette's Southern-Gothic Rock

Xiu Xiu's Stewart Takes On 'Gay-bashing'

Portishead Producer Resurfaces Behind New Diva

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wire, Primal Scream On Buddyhead Comp

Yeah Yeah Yeahs To Tour West Coast

Sonic Youth, Erase Errata Kick Off 'Buddy Series'

The Locust Are One Scary Band

Damien Rice In The 'Here And Now'

Remembering Karp's Scott Jernigan

ATP-NY Postponed 'Til At Least 2004

The Soul Of Chris Lee

Gits' Frenching The Bully To See Re-Release

Stephen Malkmus Is In Control

Superchunk To Release Rarities Set; Teenage Girls To Swoon As A Result

Summer Touring For The Gossip

Babbling On About Deerhoof

Irish Song Poet Damien Rice's O Released In U.S.

Chatting With ATP's Barry Hogan

Former Digable Planets Frontman Surfaces With Cherrywine

ATP L.A. Festival Rescheduled For Fall

Freakwater's Janet Bean Takes A Solo Turn

Lee's 'Cool Rock'

Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Highlight YES NEW YORK

Mark Romanek's 'Hurt' Revives Johnny Cash's Career

The Rapture's Post-Punk, Post-Dance Sound

R.E.M., Wilco, Modest Mouse Highlight Bumbershoot Fest

Set Fires To Flames' Sleep-Deprivation Sound

Southern Gothic Past Shadows Verbena's La Musica Negra

The Subtle Evolution Of Yo La Tengo

Spring Tour For Jolie Holland (Plus A Live Album)

Liz Phair Still Pushing The Limits

Gold Chains Wants You To Dance And Think

Young People's War Prayers On The Way

peruse archival

-snippetcontactsnippetcontributorssnippetvisionsnippethelpsnippetcopyrightsnippetlegalsnippetterms of usesnippetThis site is Copyright © 2003 Insider One LLC