Tompkins Square’s visionary series of albums under the Imaginational Anthem banner provides a comprehensive survey of some of the more obscure byways of guitar recordings, primarily acoustic and “particularly in the American Primitive vein” – a term which for most guitar aficionados will conjure up names like (especially) John Fahey, other latter-day exponents including Leo Kottke. Michael Chapman has also made excursions into this territory, as latterly has Michael Hedges, while Luke Hirst among the younger generation of expert practitioners.
But the latest volume in the Imaginational Anthem series collects together guitarists from an altogether wider stylistic ambit that just American Primitive. It’s subtitled The Private Press, and gathers for our edification under one handy roof 14 intriguing recordings, the majority of which are very obscure indeed, having originally been defiantly self-released against the prevailing tides of musical fashion, pressed in miniscule numbers and wilfully or eccentrically distributed or indifferently (if at all, indeed) marketed. Although the tracks compiled here encompass a wide timespan (1968 through to 1995), there’s no easy way to discern the temporal provenance of any individual item, and I guess almost any of them could’ve been recorded at any time over the past half-century. The technical quality of the recordings is surprisingly good throughout, with only the occasional abrupt edit or truncated ending that betrays a less “professional” origin.
The Private Press’s opening selection is one of only a meagre handful of recordings by Perry Lederman, whose fingerstyle playing greatly influenced Bay Area musicians of the 60s including Jorma Kaukonen and Michael Bloomfield – and who allegedly taught his friend Bob Dylan to fingerpick… One Kind Favor – maybe misnamed, for it sounds more like a completely different blues standard that I can’t quite place for now – is arguably one of the most “orthodox” tracks on this collection, although it’s characterised by some “sinister, strangulated” slide playing. On this evidence, the whole of Perry’s 1995 album is surely a prime candidate for reissue. A little further into the disc, the deft drifting pictorialism of Where The Pinery Narrows, taken from a 1983 album by Kaneville, IL-based “self-styled Balladeer of the Great Lakes” Lee Murdock, provides one of the collection’s most overtly accessible examples, along with Larry Conklin’s lyrical 1980 slide excursion The Diamond Cutter and the craftsmanlike delicacy of Kip Dobler (The Presence). Further delights come with the graceful, elegant resonances of Herb Moore (multi-layered on Wen Also Found), who also brings chiming bells into the soundscape, while Rick Deitrick’s rippling Missy Christa conjures up the flowing rivers of the wilderness among whose trails he randomly scattered copies of his albums so that they could be found by serendipity and fellow-wanderers! It’s curious, but I seem to recall Gary Salzman’s wonderfully fleet-fingered track The Secret Forces Of Nature (which was labelled as being a 42 rpm record!) being aired on a John Peel programme in ’69 or thereabouts, possibly due to its C.J. & The Fish connection (Gary and Bruce Barthol being good friends); this ambitious essay rambles companionably on and through a sitar passage before exploding into rude electronic chaos at its close – very fin-de-60s experimental, that! After which, Stan Samole’s gentle, jazzy, African-inflected Prayer Blessing is a brilliant antidote. Nancy Tucker’s imaginative and appeling That Spanish Thing is another disc highlight, although her trademark “guitar-as-miniature-playground” method doesn’t really figure on this track so it’s probably not entirely representative of her artistry. The remaining strand of guitar experimentation in evidence on The Private Press is that possessing a strong eastern influence, notably the cuts by Michael Kleniec (Obadiah, from 1975) and Joe Bethancourt (the tripped-out Raga, from his wild 1969 album).
I can’t praise the enterprise of this release highly enough – it comes complete with suitably informative liner notes that illuminate the murky paths from which these recordings emerge – and yes, I’d love to hear more from these releases, particularly those by by Joe Bethancourt, Nancy Tucker, Herb Moore and Perry Lederman, if the good folks at Tompkins Square are able to license them. Meantime, I absolutely must check out volumes 1-7 of this fascinating series pronto…
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