Have Moicy 2 The Hoodoo Bash Red Newt Records


The 1975 album Have Moicy! was the summit of what Greil Marcus has called The Old, Weird America, a term he coined to describe Dylan’s basement tapes which he saw as a continuation of the spirit of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. What Marcus missed was the true keepers of the spirit of Smith’s groundbreaking collection, the musical misfits, smokers and tokers who constituted the extended Holy Modal Rounders family and who were responsible for the delights contained in Have Moicy! After surviving the sixties (and leaving behind him a slew of discs that, among other things, added the word psychedelic to the folk lexicon, graced the soundtrack to Easy Rider and funked up The Fugs) Peter Stampfel regrouped the Rounders without Steve Weber and with Michael Hurley and Jeffrey Fredericks and his Clamtones recorded what critic Robert Christgau called “the greatest folk album of the rock era.” While in 1975 Neil Young was heading for the ditch, Stampfel and his allies were manning a gleeful and zany outpost armed with fiddles and guitars taking aim at the absurdities of the day. Songs about hamburgers, alimentary canals and robbing banks delivered with zest, rock’n’roll, doo wop and folk reimagined in their imaginary world.

Have Moicy! ended with the song Hoodoo Bash, a saw fiddle fuelled and surreal gathering of the tribes all bringing Thunderbird wine and a pound of hash. Stampfel sings, “Lovers or strangers we’ll all go through changes when we get the good old spirit down at the hoodoo bash.” Fittingly enough The Hoodoo Bash is the given title for this long waited follow up of sorts to the 1975 masterpiece. The genesis of the album is too long to be repeated here but Stampfel had been considering some sort of sequel for some time. With original collaborators Jeffrey Frederick and Paul Presti deceased and Michael Hurley eventually declining an invite Stampfel still had Robin Remailly and Dave Reisch from the original disc and in a reflection of the earlier sessions managed to marry New York and Oregon freakiness with his inspired invite to Baby Gramps and Jeffrey Lewis to join in, the stage then set for this second summit meeting.

It’s important to state that this is not an attempt to remake the earlier album. While that may have been Stampfel’s original vision, with Hurley, Frederick and Presti out of the equation it couldn’t be. Instead it has the same irreverent yet respectful take on old time American music going back to minstrel shows and up to early rock’n’roll. Recorded without overdubs and no chance to listen to the tapes (other than for producer Matt Sohn) it’s an unholy mess but wonderfully so. Instruments wheeze and splutter, plink and plonk with the rhythm wavering and voices appearing from nowhere on the choruses. The ensemble are completed by Kristin Andreassen, Zoe Stampfel and The Dustbusters and it’s a song by a member of The Dustbusters, Rich Man Poor Man that best displays the wonky groove they found and worked on while the instrumental Banjolina shows that there was indeed a lot of work put into rehearsals with the ensemble playing here incredibly tight. Scattered throughout the album, Stampfel’s goofiness, Lewis’ witticisms and Gramps’ seadog saltiness are all aired while all three Dustbusters contribute songs that sound as if they were written a century ago.

Stampfel opens the album with his reboot of Del Shannon’s Searchin’ complete with spooky hoodoo chorus voices while New Fiddler’s Dram is classic Stampfel weirdness adapting the old chestnut into a tale of, as he puts it, “a patricidal mother fucking skull fucking sociopath.” It works a treat as does Eat That Roadkill, originally a minstrel song called Carve Dat Possum, it has a similar macabre pull as those old racist cartoons that depicted black folk as simple folk happy just to sing.

Lewis in the main takes Stampfel tunes as a start point, he channels the sixties in Nonsense, a wonderful ditty that does recall the psychedelic sweetness of Random Canyon, Intelligent Design could have sat easily on a Fugs album and It’s No Good is a skeletal slice of beat freak folk, a Horse Badorties for our times. As for Baby Gramps, his songs are shanties of the utmost saltiness, his voice growling and burbling in fine fashion on Nailer’s Consumption and Crossbone Scully. While I’ve kind of separated the contributions here, throughout the album there’s a fine degree of cross fertilisation, lead vocals swapped and shared, a true collective effort.

A wonderful collection of songs that see saw away with Stampfel’s love for (and his long standing subversion of) old time music proudly at the helm, The Hoodoo Bash is an essential listen for anyone beguiled by the idea of old, weird Americana.

The album is available here

Hillfolk Noir. Pop Songs For Elk

It’s junkerdash time again folks as the ever excellent Hillfolk Noir unload another album of slightly unhinged old time music and set off on another tour of the UK commencing this weekend. They’ve been a Blabber’n’Smoke favourite ever since we heard their 2011 album Skinny Mammy’s Revenge while 2013’s What’s That Hat For set a standard for raw boned backwoods string band music.

On Pop Songs For Elk Hillfolk Noir remain a three piece with Travis Ward at the front end, writing the songs, playing guitar and banjo and singing with partner Alison M. Ward on banjo, saw, washboard and vocals and Michael P. Waite on bass. As is their norm they recorded the album live with no overdubs before it was mixed in mono creating a wonderful melange of strings and things that pours out of the speakers with a joyful clarity. Travis Ward tackles tradition with his songs sounding as if they could have been written anytime in the past 100 years although his lyrics are definitely contemporary. Jug band, talking blues, hillbilly and ragtime are all filtered through the Hillfolk Noir sieve with some exhilarating results.

They open with a stramash, guitars mauled before the eerie saw sound from Alison wails around the punk folk of North Idaho Zombie Rag allowing them to sound like a hillbilly Gun Club. It’s a tremendous opener, spooky and thrilling. Round I Sing/Mile On Up harks back to a formal string band dance number with Travis and Alison’s duetting not dissimilar to The Handsome Family as the lyrics range from religion to sniffing glue, one can imagine clog dancers gainfully dancing away while they try to comprehend the lyrical content with some disbelief. Poor Man’s Love Song is a delightful solo effort from Travis that would not shame the pen of Woody Guthrie and he goes solo again on the banjo plucked weirdness of Getting Late where he describes a rural community with everyone from the chickens to the mayor on some sort of drug. Getting high is the raison d’être of Sniffing Glue Blues, a simple song that has added space age reverb inviting comparisons to those sixties freak folk The Holy Modal Rounders and surely destined to end up on the playlist of the Dr. Demento radio show.

Elsewhere the band offer some solid licks with Uncle Jake a muscular jug band tale that starts off with a description of“a mean old man he washes his socks in a frying pan, you don’t want to go fisticuffs with Uncle Jake” while Little Red Caboose romps along with some glee as Waite’s bass powers the song along. Shimmy is old time rag music with the singer’s sister shimmying like jelly on a plate and delivered with a magical old time feel almost as if it were the soundtrack to an old Betty Boop cartoon.

All 12 songs here are gems which reinforce our belief that Hillfolk Noir are simply superb, running with an historical musical genre and banging it right up to date. While the album is of course recommended there’s an opportunity to see the Hillfolk Noir experience live over the next two weeks as they tour the UK and Ireland, dates here.


Listen here

Ed Askew. For The World. Tin Angel Records

Ed Askew has been a secret for four decades. A New York artist and teacher who released one album on the ill fated ESP Disc label (home to The Fugs, Holy Modal Rounders, The Godz and Albert Ayler) back in 1968 he then all but disappeared from view. But these days popular music likes to regurgitate its past and just like Vashti Bunyan, Rodriguez and most recently Shelagh McDonald Askew has climbed back into the limelight, rubbing his eyes and, tentatively at first, looking around him. His revival started with the release in 2007 of his second album (which he recorded in 1970!) followed by two new albums Rainy Day Song in 2008 and Imperfiction in 2011. All were solo efforts with Askew playing an instrument called a Tiple (somewhat like a ukulele only with ten strings) on his first album then adding keyboards to the latter ones. For The World is his first collaboration with other musicians including Marc Ribot, Jay Pluck, members of The Black Swans and Sharon Van Etten.
Now in his early seventies Askew’s voice remains somewhat unique. He’s acquired a slight patina with age but remains a trembling tenor sounding as if he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. There’s a slight similarity to Will Oldham in his idiosyncratic delivery while John Cale also comes to mind (without the Welsh lilt). The songs for the most part are sepia toned meditations and fables which betray his sixties origins while the music is dominated by an old fashioned piano sound like your aunt playing in the parlour. Delicate stringed instruments including harp wander in and out of the simple melodies while a lonesome country harmonica adds an almost Neil Young ditch feel to some of the pieces.
The album opens with the rolling piano and plaintive harmonica of Rodeo Rose. Askew sounds world wearied as the piano repeats itself with only some crepuscular guitar from Ribot to break the circle. It’s almost as if the itinerant vagrant who mumbled the words to Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet had found a voice and penned some lyrics. Mesmerising. Blue Eyed Baby is another circular song with Askew agog at the wonders of nature and he sings it with a sense of wide eyed wonder. Gertrude Stein is a simple homily to the poet and her poem Sacred Emily as Askew recalls his past and simply wishes these days to be able to sit and forego these memories and think of nothing at all. It’s a brief song and reminds one of Tom Rapp, another artist who recorded for ESP Disc back in the sixties.
Rapp’s band, Pearls before Swine, comes to mind again on So, a halting and mysterious song which is almost like a series of Haikus linked together on a necklace of haunting piano. Moon In The Wind brings back the lonesome harmonica while the piano plinks on while Drum recalls the likes of Weimar artist Joachim Ringelnatz’s poetry and declamation. Baby Come Home is the most sprightly song on the album with Askew hitting an early Dylan vibe while the closing title song is a rickety fable about the joy of singing and at the end of the day it’s a joy to hear Askew singing again.
Ed Askew might be an acquired taste (he’s in regular rotation on Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone) but this album should be lapped up by anyone interested in the wider shores of folk and outsider music.
Buy it here

Peter Stampfel & The Ether Frolic Mob. The Sound of America. Red Newt Records

Peter Stampfel at 72 might be the grand old man of American string band music but anyone who has seen him play recently will attest to the fact that he is one of the “zingiest” characters you could ever hope to meet. He wears his years well and his infectious bonhomie and general zest for life and for music puts many younger musicians to shame. He is a bona fide Blabber’n’Smoke hero having accompanied, enlightened and thrilled us over 40 years of listening to music and he has a list of achievements which are way too numerous to mention here. We did list some these when we wrote about his last Glasgow gig here where he filled the room with a sense of joy. Over the past decade he has seemed revitalised with a slew of albums with various co conspirators and The Sound of America takes us bang up to date while offering Stampfel an opportunity to revisit his roots.
Never a man (in his youth) to swerve various intoxicants ( and the first to include the word psychedelic in a song, Hesitation Blues in 1964), Stampfel has named his latest line up after the habit in the 19th and early 20th centuries of performers using ether to enhance their and the audience’s enjoyment of their shows. Although he states that the current line up has “no druggies, alkies, people with major character flaws, ego problems, or douchiness of any variety” they manage to capture the essential irreverence , bawdiness and general mayhem that has characterised the best of Stampfel’s recordings which from the very beginning sounded as if they were being played by folk coming at you from another universe where oxygen was only one of the gasses they needed to live on. If you think that freak folk is the domain of Devandra Barnhart then a listen to Stampfel should dispel that notion forever. As he says he’s always taken great joy in bending and twisting traditional material.

The Sound of America is essentially an opportunity for Stampfel to visit the alternative American songbook surrounded by his latest conglomeration. The Ether Frolic Mob are a shape shifting bunch, a moveable feast depending on who is available and who turns up on the night. While their ages range from the twenties to the eighties they all buy in to Stampfel ‘s medicine show elixir which guarantees a good time for all with no hokum. Stampfel writes several songs while others are credited to Ether Frolickers John Cohen and Walker Shepherd (the latter a co write with his dad, Sam Shepard). The rest are either traditional or penned in the backwoods or tin pan alley. Stampfel mentions Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music as a touchstone while also acknowledging his supreme collaboration with Michael Hurley, Jeffrey Frederick and others on the fantastic Have Moicy album (indeed he promises in the album notes that the Frolics are in the process of creating Have Moicy 2). While his is the dominant voice and he is undoubtedly the driver here there this is a democratic show with various members taking lead vocal and all joining in on fiddle, banjo, percussion and general mayhem. It’s random, at times thoroughly unhinged with Memphis Shakedown and New Fortune marginally sharing the prize for out there wackiness. Stampfel howls and wails on the former as only he can do and listening to it one is transported back to the mid sixties and the Rounder’s Indian War Whoop. While there are several wonderful instrumentals that lurch and sway excellently as displayed on Wild Wagoner the songs allow the Mob to shine and particular mention must be made of Hubby Jenkin’s masterful interpretation of Charlie Patton’s Shake It Break It. Stampfel himself offers a hilarious mea culpa on Back Again while Gonna Make Me with John Cohen on vocals zips us back to the very first Holy Modal Rounder recordings in its simplicity. Hey-O is another comparatively uncluttered song where Stampfel inhabits a childlike innocence able to deliver insults that no one could take offence to.
The Ether Frolics Mob might embody an anarchic principle where it seems everyone can do what they want and there’s always the possibility of falling into chaos but at their heart they employ their talents to enhance the whole and when the full ensemble launches into Golden Slippers or Deep In The Heart of Texas there’s an exhilarating effect even without resorting to a sniff of ether. Such wild shenanigans are unlikely to ever bother the BBC playlists but Stampfel and The Ether Frolic Mob mine a fascinating vein of American music and deliver it with a passion that is inspirational and above all else enjoyable.
For further information on the songs check out the extended liner notes here while you can buy the album here

Random Canyon Growlers. Dickey Ain’t Got All Day.

Regular visitors to Blabber’n’Smoke will know that we’re suckers for energetic bluegrass/old timey country music with bands like The Hot Seats, The Foghorn Stringband and Hillfolk Noire regularly getting mentions here. Ignited many years ago when we first heard the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s triumphant triple album Will The Circle be Unbroken we quickly fell under the spell of the first two Holy Modal Rounder albums, old time music with a weird twist. The Rounders became weirder over the years but one song that has always stuck with us is Peter Stampfel’s Random Canyon, a sweet, innocent and nostalgic almost kiddie type song that hammers Puff The Magic Dragon into the ground. So it was with a sense of anticipation that we stuck the Random Canyon Growlers onto the hi-fi in case there was some element of Stampfel’s druggy nursery rhyme here. Sadly this was not to be the case however we did get to hear a great album of vibrant and energetic bluegrass songs that positively brims with confidence.
Hailing from mountainous Wyoming the Random Canyon Growlers are a young band with what appears to be a revolving line-up. Here they are a five piece with mainstays Jamie Drysdale and David McMeekin on guitar and banjo respectively. Their sound captures the classic air of bluegrass and old time country perfectly and although they attack the faster songs with a breathtaking energy they are equally at home with the more lachrymose ballad including a grand version of the Louvin brothers’ Dark as The Night. The the ensemble playing is tremendous and the solo virtuosity on display is at times breathtaking, the string bass snap on Doghouse assaults the ears with its ferocity. While they cover the likes of the Louvins and Bill Monroe the majority of the songs are written by Drysdale and McMeekin however a blind listen would fail to differentiate between the covers and the originals as they have immersed themselves in the tradition and updated it with brio. The songs leap into life with fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo duelling away in magnificent style while Drysdale and McMeekin throw their heart and soul into the vocals. They definitely stake their claim to be one of the best of the current young bluegrass bands.
Harking back to the Holy Modal Rounders at the end of the album a bunch of hidden tracks capture the band goofing around with one segment very reminiscent of the interludes on the Rounders psychedelic masterpiece Indian War Whoop. Intriguing.
Anyhow and more to the point the band are currently touring the UK commencing yesterday. Dates below. If they can carry off this level of achievement live then they’re a must.

Mon Oct 15: Sarratt, The Cock Inn
Tue 16: London, King’s Cross
Thu 18: Barnacre, The Kenlis Arms
Fri 19: Newport, The Bargeman’s Rest
Sun 21: Birmingham, Kitchen Garden Café
Tue 23: Horsham, The Tanners Arms
Wed 24: Lewes, The Snowdrop Inn
Thu 25: Bristol, The Canteen
Fri 26: Cardiff, The Moon Club
Sat 27: Sowerby Bridge, Puzzle Hall Inn
Sun 28: Stranraer, The Grapes
Mon 29: Cookstown, The Red Room
Tue 30: Omagh, The Weigh Inn
Wed 31: Listowel, St John’s Theatre
Thu Nov 1: Wexford, The Sky & The Ground
Fri 2: Belfast, The Belfast Barge
Sun 4: Arklow, The Fifty Six Bar


For Fear The Hearts of Men Are Failing. The Wonderful Clatter

Blabber’n’Smoke enjoys string band music. Fingers flying over stringed instruments, banjos, mandolins, ukuleles, guitars. Fiddles and saws bowed. Played with virtuosity or wonderfully shambolic, old time or bang up to date, we dig it. So we were very happy to hear that the very fine San Francisco troupe, For Fear The Hearts Of Men Are Failing were having a Kickstarter campaign to fund their second album having loved the previous release City Music. We were even more happy and intrigued that the band were looking for the princely sum of $1000 in order to unleash this beast. Having achieved their target the result is The Wonderful Clatter, an almost onomatopoeic title for this cracking collection of songs and tunes that teeter on the edge of craziness and totter like a drunk rambling home.
The forebears of FFTHOM are bands like The Holy Modal Rounders and The Incredible String Band. They’re immersed in the sounds and songs of vintage rural Americana and come up with what is a fairly unique style that will scare off casual listeners with its harum scarum scapperings. For anyone however who can trace the lineage of rough hewn American folk music from the early days, captured by Harry Smith on his definitive anthology, they are gold dust.
The album opens with the speed freak banjo and pell mell vocals of Ghosts and Dreams, a wonderful clatter indeed. A great segue into the childlike naiveté of Up Jumped The Devil is inspired and its clear here that despite their apparent randomness they do take time to arrange their songs as the glockenspiel and melodica backdrop support the fine yet ragged harmonies on a song that could have been on one of The Incredible String Band’s early albums.
While The Meadow and One Thing I Know are relatively straightforward country romps (although with FFTHOM nothing is really straightforward) the true delights are on the definitely quirkier songs. No Point To Life (with guest accordionist Skyler Fell) is an existential trip that sounds as if it’s being sung by a bunch of Russian Nihilists (and is reminiscent then of the late great Tuli Kupferberg). Devon Doesn’t Like The Beatles playfully describes a troubled teen who grudgingly acknowledges that The Beatles exist because “they’re Lemmy’s favourite band,” a delightful ditty. Aside from the whimsy they can pull out of their collective hat the gorgeous Bad Dreams (written and sung by Meg Ruth King) that has a haunting quality and sounds like a lost outtake from Karen Dalton.
The Wonderful Clatter is a fine successor to City Music then and one which deserves to be heard far and wide by those who love traditional music and those who like to walk on the wild side.


Peter Stampfel and The Worm All-Stars. A Sure Sign of Something

Blabber’n’Smoke makes no excuses for featuring Peter Stampfel again. This Greenwich Village veteran and peer of Dylan back in the early sixties continues to amaze us with his vitality and infectious enthusiasm. His Glasgow gig back in January with Jeffrey Lewis was a sheer delight and in person he is simply astounding, a pleasure to spend a few moments with. So much so that at that gig I stumbled away without picking up a copy of the album he’s recorded with Lewis. Nevertheless of late Stampfel has been on a roll both live and in the studio and this collaboration with Dutch avant garde musicians The Worm All-Stars is a fine addition to his canon.
Stampfel met these guys when he was in Amsterdam for a screening of the Holy Modal Rounders’ documentary, Bound to Lose. Invited to perform after the screening they offered to back him up. According to Stampfel’s delightful liner notes he was so enthralled by them he invited them over to New York to rehears some songs. He then followed them back to the Netherlands to record this album.
The Worm All-Stars consist of Lukas Simonis on guitar and bass, Nina Hitz on cello and keyboards and the astonishing Alan Purves on all manner of percussion and noseflutes with all three contributing to the vocals. Although described as an avant garde noise troupe they manage to carry off a very fine old country type sound allowing Stampfel to indulge in his love of traditional Americana. Several of the songs are old traditionals while others are more recent, written by Stampfel and his compadres with one contribution from Simonis.
Of course this being Peter Stampfel this album is far from a retread of old and new folk numbers. The band add a tremendous sense of adventure and at times plain old sonic wizardry while Stampfel stamps his authority all over the piece, vocally and musically. Recalling the wild adventure that was The Holy Modal Rounders in their earlier incarnations songs like Last Chance and Peg ‘N Awl disinter the old Harry Smith Anthology sound and revive it much as Victor Frankenstein did with his creature, awesome and dangerous yet with a simple sense of wonder.
Revisiting songs from his past there is a fine version of Midnight In Paris from Have Moicy while the infamous Rounders song Fucking Sailors in Chinatown which opens the album is as anthemic as ever. This should have been on the Rogues Gallery CD spawned by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies if there were any justice. Simonis’ song, Maximum Spare Ribs is a mutant Ghostriders In the Sky with the ghostriders replaced by insurance salesmen! Time and again one is struck by the playing on this album but special mention must be given to percussionist Purves who populates all of the songs with all sorts of clutter and clatter. Stomping bass drums and skittering sticks abound with perhaps the best example being the aforementioned Last Chance where the cacophony is added to by some excellent violin screeching and fine guitar from Simonis. Stampfel and Hitz work brilliantly together on the skeletal One Will Do For Now which creaks and groans like old timber.
The album is well packaged with liner notes on all of the songs by Stampfel. He pays special mention to Shambolar, a song originally by Sherriff and the Ravels from 1958 describing it as “the Rosetta stone connecting African music, Caribbean music and doo-wop. The version here offers full rein to Purves’ percussion on a chant that could as easily have come from Paul Simon’s Graceland or an old Fugs’ record. The connection, I’m sure is there.
An added bonus to this excellent album for Scottish listeners is a hidden song at the end. Percussionist Alan Purves originally hails from Edinburgh and he provides a spoken tale, A Wee Fortune, a scatological account of a night out in Edinburgh from his youth which is darkly humorous and brings to mind a meeting of Ivor Cutler and Irvine Welsh.
Buy it here
Drunken Banjo Waltz


The Jeffrey Lewis Peter Stampfel Folk Show

Living legend, Grammy award winner, mentioned in Dylan’s Chronicles, what else is there to say about Peter Stampfel? Well, quite a lot actually. Stampfel was (and is) a Holy Modal Rounder or HMR if you prefer. To my mind an HMR trumps any accolade such as an OBE, CBE or any of that crap. From the dawn of the sixties Stampfel has pursued a musical course that has occasionally bumped into the mainstream (see Easy Rider) but for the most part has been a dirty secret shared by aficionados of underground and left field music. Apart from the Rounders he’s been a member of The Fugs, played with Gary Lucas (of Captain Beefheart fame) and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of American folk music.
Hooking up with Jeffrey Lewis, enfant terrible of the NY “anti-folk” scene seems to be a stroke of genius if their gig at at Mono on Friday night is anything to go by. Although Lewis performed some of his routine fare the night belonged to the legacy that is Peter Stampfel. Tremendous versions of songs from his extensive oeuvre were offered to a sold out crowd. Here’s some photos from the night.

Holy Modelling

Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps. Outertainment. Red Newt Records.

Way back in the 1960’s there were none so weird and way out as the Holy Modal Rounders. Initially an acoustic duo comprised of Peter Stampfel on banjo and fiddle and Steve Weber, guitar, they jerked songs featured on the Harry smith Anthology of American folk music into the psychedelic sixties. In a decade long musical odyssey they ganged up with the inflammatory Fugs for a few albums and featured on the Easy Rider soundtrack. With members coming and going (including both founders) at various times their journey culminated in a zenith with Have Moicy!, a collaboration with Michael Hurley and Jeffrey Frederick that is generally considered one of the lost treasures of the 1970’s. A Stampfel/Weber reunion in 1999 produced a fine album in Too Much Fun that revisited some of the glories of their first two albums.
Since then Weber has for the most part retreated from the music biz (although he has released some vintage live recordings recently). Stampfel however ploughs on and over the years has released albums with The Bottlenecks, The Du-Tels (with ex Beefheart guitarist, Gary Lucas) and as a solo act. No matter the format however he retains a goofy childlike sense of wonder and above all an enduring love for and knowledge of American folk music.
Here Stampfel teams up with a character who seems to be as idiosyncratic and, well, as goofy, as him. Baby Gramps is a Seattle institution having busked and played there since perhaps the sixties. A well kept secret until he appeared on Rogues’ Gallery, a collection of pirate themed sea chanteys a few years back, Gramps has a voice that has been described as Popeye like and he shares Stampfel’s irreverent and iconoclastic approach to the classics of old time American music.
The result is a triumph, the best album Stampfel has been involved in since Too Much Time,. As a duo they stamp their personalities on individual songs while complementing each other vocally. Indeed it’s not too far fetched to say that Stampfel has eventually found a replacement for his long lost soul mate Weber. While the overall sound and feel of the album owes more to Gramps’ grizzled approach which keeps Stampfel’s often hyperkinetic style in check there are moments when both do let loose. Blues, folk and tin pan alley songs all get the treatment. While Gramps starts the album in fine style with Buzzard on the Gut Wagon, a growled hammered blues with vocals that recall Beefheart, he excels on Monkeys have No Tails in Zamboanga, a nonsense song that uses a style similar to Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence with some fantastic vocal interplay between the two, Gramps burbling and gurgling while Stampfel wails along, fantastic stuff. Stampfel’s contributions range from a wonderfully high and lonesome version of Heigh Ho (yes, the Disney song from Snow White with massed whistling) and a delightfully dotty ditty about the toilet habits of his puppy dog. He gets to showcase his fiddling chops on Wake Up Jacob which with Uncle Eph’s Got the Coon and Bar Bar is the nearest we get here to a Holy Modal traditional sound with Gramps taking the Weber part. The chalk and cheese pairing of their vocals is best seen on their rendition of Surfing Bird, the sixties garage punk staple which gets a demented outing here and demonstrates that there is no need for amped up fuzz guitar to create a cacophony. The album ends on a triumphant note with Ghost Train of Freak Mountain , described by Gramps in the liner notes as
“based on the mysterious legend of the ghost train running through Freak Mountain, which is a real place, but not found on any map.”
Well, no map perhaps but its topography is well described here.
While the likes of Seasick Steve have popularised traditional American folk blues recently this album portrays two artists who are steeped in the idiom but who present it through an unpolished, intensely personal viewpoint. It might not be pretty but it is pretty amazing. Special mention should be given to the unobtrusive bass playing of Dave Reisch who has served with Gramps, Stampfel and Michael Hurley over many years and who performs the same duties here and Curtis “King chamberlain who adds little touches of jaw harp, penny whistle and jug.

Norman Savitt and Friends.

Norman Ira Savitt is New York based guitarist who has long had an association with Peter Stampfel and their small circle of (mutual) friends. Armed with a deep knowledge of old time American music and familiar to those who frequent the websites and message boards of folk like the late Tuli Kupferberg (of The Fugs) he has released his first ever album, a meditative and peaceful collection of instrumentals based on his finger picking skills. Whether solo or accompanied by harmonica, cello, violin or penny whistle the result is wistful, at times elegiac with pieces dedicated to Ken Kesey and Chris Whitley (an old friend of Savitt’s).
It’s always tempting to mention John Fahey when a guitarist releases an album like this and although Savitt’s playing lacks Fahey’s baroque eclecticism and occasional dissonance the feeling generated when playing the album is similar to that of Fahey’s more straightforward pieces, Alex at Six in particular fits this bill. David Amram’s penny whistle on this tune evokes primitive cultures and the quills used by Canned Heat on Going Up The Country. Elsewhere Savitt, (with the aid of Eugene Friesen on cello) conjures up wintry English folksong on Prayer for Peace and Celtic mist on Alone. Howard Levy (from Bela Fleck’s band and who produced) adds some haunting harmonica to several tunes while violinist Susan Mitchell colours the tribute to the Reverend Gary Davis, One for the Rev where Savitt uses some Davis licks to great effect.
Savitt’s liner notes indicate his affinity to nature and the great outdoors and in an untutored, Carradine like zen mood, one could imagine that listening to this album is akin to watching a pebble fall into a still pond and digging the ripples long after they’ve gone.
Both albums are available here

Finally while we’re on things Rounder related a mention for Charlie Messing. Sprawling Epic. Charlie Messing was once a Rounder, late in the days but a member of that fabled troupe so a sneak preview of his forthcoming album was serendipitous. Apart from his part in the Rounders story Messing has played with Link Wray and Robert Gordon and backed up Loudon Wainwright. In addition he has a wealth of tales to tell of the New York scene from the boho sixties to the punk seventies and beyond which used to be available on his now defunct webpage. Indeed he’s like a musical Zelig, being there at fortuitous moments and this is reflected in his music.
Sprawling Epic looks to be a fairly eclectic pick of his own songs and a few choice covers (including Tom Waits, Michael Hurley, Dean Martin and Blind Willie McTell) all sung in his peculiar and endearing hangdog way. Low key and laid back it has a simple charm. Check back for news of the release date.

Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps Bar Bar
Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps Buzzard on the Gut Wagon
Norman Savitt and Friends Alex at Six

Michael Hurley. Ida Con Snock. Gnomosong (Gong 13).

ida con snock

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.