Michael Hurley (for those who don’t know of him) is a living link to the freakier side of American folk from the sixties and seventies. With fellow travellers The Holy Modal Rounders he took the essence of Harry Smith’s Anthology and ran with it. Thankfully he’s still around these days with his unique take on old Americana (for want of a better description). On his second release on Devandra Barnhart’s label he’s teamed up with American band Ida who provide a very sympathetic backing to his croons, yelps and mock trumpet. Comprised (as has been the case over the past few releases) of reworkings of some of his back catalogue coupled with a choice selection of new songs and covers Hurley weaves his magic with style.
With songs dark and light, singalong and introspective the album will delight fans and may prove more accessible to newcomers due to the smoother production and Ida’s contributions. While his older songs such as “Wildgeeses” and “Hog of The Forsaken” stand out his cover of “Rag Mop” is engaging and he even makes a decent fist of old chestnuts such as Molly Malone and the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. Best song however is the opener, “It Must Be Gelatine” where Jean Cook’s violin shivers as Snock dismantles the old blues analogy of jelly and sex. As he slyly sings amid picked and plucked strings
“if it looks like jelly, if it shakes like jelly, then it must be gelatine.”
For a taste of the old world brought up to date you can’t do better than picking this up. Hurley is appearing in the UK early in the New Year.
The past is another country, as L. P. Hartley almost said and here Glasgow singer and songwriter Chris Adams does his best to prove him right. Adams, a Glasgow beat, hippie, rock star and producer once shared management and label with the likes of Genesis in the seventies. His band String Driven Thing graced the pages of Rolling Stone and the NME and almost made it big time. Since then he has occasionally resurfaced, has been big in Europe and has most recently grabbed his history by the collar and revamped his website amid acclaimed re-releases of his back catalogue. Here, on an album suffused with nostalgia, he digs into that past to produce a set that talks to the baby boomer years in much the same way as many of his American contemporaries have been doing as they revisit their own histories.
Without the “trademark” violin sound that characterised the String driven thing’s heyday this is an album of mature, reflective songs superbly played by a very simpatico band. The sound is warm, bluesy and rootsy with a southern flavour. One is reminded of recent releases by Gurf Morlix or Colin Linden (of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings). Adams’ vocals have an attractive weathered quality and at times he approaches the gruffness of the late John Martyn or the idiosyncrasies of latter Dylan especially on the final song “Love Dies.”
As mentioned, much of the album consists of reportage or impressions of Adams’ formative years. Amid verbal nods to his heroes (including the Beatles, Stones and the Byrds) he recalls events in places as diverse as Glasgow, Dublin and New York. “Kelvin Way” is a gorgeous essay on the frailties of memory and with its emphasis on the descriptions of the landscape of the park and the journey there could be an outtake from an early Van Morrison album if Van had come from Glasgow. Adams repeats this on “Grisham Hotel” where he actually visits Morrison’s territory. Again the lyrics are evocative, impressionistic and poetic.” Die Without It” is a rite of passage song describing the writer’s early introduction to rock in a similar vein to Gurf Morlix’s recent Drums of New Orleans with the late night airwaves turning a generation of kids onto the devil’s music. On “Idol” Adams recounts a meeting with one of these ghostly early airwave heroes and imparts a sense of loss and loneliness reflecting the failure of his generation to change the world.
Adams lyrics are excellent throughout but special mention must be given to “Affairs of the Heart.” Dense, romantic and delivered perfectly, this would sit comfortably on a Dylan album as Adams sings
“Affairs of the heart are not covered by protocol/they come from a realm governed by fate/affairs of the heart are measured in metaphor. /where passion is heat and ice it is hate/and the cycle began with original sin/temptation too great not to give in/and so we were cast out from our paradise/to live in a world where innocence dies.”
Lyrics of this quality are scattered throughout and one gets the sense that Adams has garnered years of experience, personal and as a fan and poured it into this record. The band, George Tucker, Andy Allen and Dick Drake rise to the occasion.
Overall this is an excellent album. Like a fine wine it oozes quality and slips down easy and is all the better for being of a certain vintage.
With their latest album “We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River” Willie Vlautin and chums seem sure to be in the top album of the year lists so beloved by us bloggers. On their tour to promote the album they pulled into the local BBC studios to record a session. You can catch it on the Radio Scotland website at Another Country but here’s one of the songs they played, “The Boyfriends.”