Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 1 & 2: Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardship

yazoo

1. THE BENTLEY BOYS, Down On Penny’s Farm
2. BLIND ALFRED REED, How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live
3.LANE HARDIN,Hard Time Blues
4. ERNEST STONEMAN, All I Got’s Gone
5. SLIM SMITH, Bread Line Blues
6. ALEC JOHNSON, Miss Meal Cramp Blues
7. KELLY HARRELL, My Name Is John Johanna
8. DAVE MCCARN, Serves ‘Em Fine
9. J.D. SHORT, It’s Hard Time
10. UNCLE DAVE MACON, All In Down And Out
11. RUTHERFORD & FOSTER, Richmond Blues
12. ELDER CURRY & HIS CONGREGATION, Hard Times
13. COFER BROTHERS, Georgia Hobo
14. BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON, One Dime Blues
15. FIDDLIN’ JOHN CARSON, Dixie Boll Weevil
16. CHUBBY PARKER, See The Black Clouds A’Breakin’ Over Yonder
17. SCRAPPER BLACKWELL, Down And Out Blues
18. EDWARD L. CRAIN, Starving To Death On A Government Claim
19. BARBECUE BOB, We Sure Got Hard Times
20. SAMANTHA BUMGARNER, Georgia Blues
21. MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT, Blue Harvest Blues
22. DIXON BROTHERS, Weaver’s Life
23. GRAHAM BROTHERS, Hard Times Come Again No More

yazoo

1. ALLEN BROTHERS, Price Of Cotton Blues
2. COFER BROTHERS, Keno The Rent Man
3.BARBECUE BOB, Bad Time Blues
4. UNCLE DAVE MACON & SAM MCGEE, Wreck Of The Tennessee Gravey Train
5. CLAYTON MCMICHEN & RILEY PUCKETT, The Arkansas Sheik
6. PEG LEG HOWELL & JIM HILL, Away From Home
7. EARLY JOHNSON & HIS DIXIE ENTERTAINERS, I’m Satisfied
8. CAROLINA TAR HEELS, Got The Farm Land Blues
9. BO CARTER & WALTER VINSON, Times Is Tight Like That
10. FISHER HENDLEY, Weave Room Blues
11. W.A. LINDSEY & ALVIN CONDER, Boll Weavil
12. JOE WILLIAMS, Providence Help The Poor People
13. MCGEE BROTHERS, The Tramp
14. DAVE MCCARN, Cotton Mill Colic
15. CHARLEY JORDAN, Starvation Blues
16. ERNEST STONEMAN, Broke Down Section Hand
17. JULES ALLEN, Little Old Sod Shanty
18. SLEEPY JOHN ESTES, Down South Blues
19. RED BRUSH ROWDIES, No One’s Hard Up But Me
20. LEE BROTHERS, Cotton Mill Blues
21. BLIND BLAKE, No Dough Blues
22. CHARLIE MCCOY & BOB CARTER, The Northern Starvers Are Returning Home
23. JIM BAIRD, Them Good Old Times Are Coming Back Again

Hard Times Come Again No More: Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardship
—————————————–Classic Recordings from the 1920s and 30s
Released on Yazoo Records, 1998 (YAZOO 2036, 2037)
This wonderful compilation from the fine people at Yazoo is an amazing thing. It plays like an audio documentary that should be essential listening for anyone who holds citizenship in the United States, as well as those who don’t but like to go around talking about how all Americans are straight-laced Puritans who worship money. These songs are akin to oral histories and testimonies from people all too often left out of those elementary history textbooks, even today. The people that were hurt most by the Great Depression because they didn’t have much to begin with; a critique of capitalism that took place in a context far removed from halls of erudite intellectuals or legislative debates. If Eugene V. Debs had an extensive record collection, if the May Day Riots (both 1894 and 1919) and the Haymarket Riots had an anachronistic soundtrack – they might have sounded like this. An anachronism because these songs were committed for posterity after those incidents had passed, but as the notes point out, the Stephen Foster song from which this collection takes its title dates from the Civil War. And the artists and recordings presented here do not hail from the Midwestern locales of those aforementioned events, but come from the post-Reconstruction South.

The liner notes (written by Charles Wolfe and Don Kent) and are up to Yazoo’s usual standards, and tackle the difficult task of discussing the more than 40 songs included here. It is worth noting, however, that the notes are racially segregated, split into two halves that deal with the largely white performers of “old timey” music, fiddle tunes, and hobo songs in the first section, with blues music , minstrel and medicine-show numbers treated in the second. To point this out is not to object to it, since it is merely a way of organizing the notes and one that reflects the divisions in US society. But I will say that Wolfe’s notes, which detail the struggles of farmers, cotton-mill workers, and rail-riding tramps and hobos, provide a lot more of contextual contours than Kent’s, which for the most part stick to the biographical elements of the artists’ background and careers.

Thankfully, Yazoo did not present the music itself in this “segregated” way but instead interwove all these elements, lending us a glimpse into the similar challenges and hardships faced by blacks and poor whites in the south at this time, and the similar musics that sprung from them. While a goodly number of the performers here will be familiar to the Flabbergasted Family, it is mostly the blues artists whose names will ring bells. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Scrapper Blackwell (best known for his recordings with Leroy Carr), Joe Williams, Mississippi John Hurt, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Blake — these names are standard touchstones in the discography of country blues. Others selections are less famous, like Charlie Jordan’s excellent “Starvation Blues” and Bo Carter & Walter Vinson’s “Times Is Tight Like That”, and Barbecue Bob’s two selections, are more “deep cuts” in the blues canon and their inclusion here is much appreciated. The old-timey artists, fiddle players, and medicine show material are probably less recognizable to most (at least, they were to me) with the notable exception of Uncle Dave Macon who is more famous for the songs he authored than the ones he recorded. In fact some of the artists here are not included in any other compilations of the CD-era and would only be known to collectors of obscure 78’s. Some of my favorites from this material are “All I Got’s Gone” (Ernest Stoneman), “Got The Farm Land Blues” (Carolina Tar Heels). “Little Old Sod Shanty” (Jules Allen), “Starving to Death on a Government Claim” (Edward L. Crain), and “Weaver’s Life” (Dixon Brothers). These are just some personalized highlights, and its hard to pick them because all the material here is first-rate.

Of course we all know that the invisible hand of the free market has rendered such hard times an obsolete relic of the past, never to be repeated again, thus rendering the critiques documented here irrelevant to the present day. At least that is what Milton Friedman told me over drinks one night.

Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 1: 320kbs em pee tree / FLAC Lossless

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Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 2: 320kbs   / FLAC Lossless

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Silvio Rodríguez – Al final de este viaje (1978)

Day Three of the Revolutionary Music Experiment

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Silvio Rodríguez
“Al final de este viaje 1968/70”
Released 1978

1. Canción del elegido
2. Familia la propiedad privada y el amor
3. Ojalá
4. Era esta pariendo un corazon
5. Resumen de noticias
6. Debo partirme en Dos
7. Oleo de mujer con sombrero
8. Aunque no este de moda
9. Que se puede hacer con el amor
10. Al final de este viaje en la vida

Silvio Rodríguez was a driving force behind the nueva trova movement of folk song in Cuba, the counterpart to the nueva canción music happening elsewhere in Latin America. But unlike artists like Victor Jara and Mercedes Sosa, I spent far too long of my life being unaware of his greatness. I have two theories on why this might be, which are not mutually exclusive. 1) I have an allergy to most music recorded after 1980, and since that is the decade when Silvio really became a huge international success, it’s possible I was just avoiding him for purely medical reasons. Or, 2) the fact that I am a citizen of a country that tried to destroy his and, failing that, suppress it in any way possible.

Whatever the case, I am thankful to a dear friend and a card-carrying member of the American Socialist Party for turning me on to Silvio, as well as other things. By which I just mean music, of course. Like helping me to finally “get” Charlie Garcia by dropping some Sui Generis on me. It’s friends like that who make this journey worthwhile.

Although this is Silvio Rodríguez’s second LP, all of the material on it was written while he was working on a fishing boat in 1969 and, according to him, writing more than 10 songs a day or something like that. Unlike his first album “Días y flores” which had a backing band on it, this record is just Silvio and his guitar. The result is a pretty stunning experience. Although song titles like “La familia, la propiedad privada y el amor” make you expect heavy-handed paeans to Engels, his songs are much more subtle than that and force the listener to hear them as personally as the writer felt them. His intimacy and romanticism are, in that sense, not terribly different than what Robert Wyatt (yesterday’s featured artist) does in his best work. His particular way of reminding us that the personal is political develops even further on his next record, Mujeres.

“Ojalá” is easily his most famous composition and its anthemic tension makes it pretty easy to see why. If you go and look around Youtube you can find clips of him playing this live before audiences that are singing every word. Kind of boring to watch, actually, as I’d much rather hear the man himself. This reminds me, I have a third theory in this blog post. 3) If the Domino Theory had been anything other than a bunch of jingoism, the opening guitar figure of Ojalá would have taken the place of the opening stanzas of Stairway to Heaven as the most overplayed guitar part in popular music. “Resumen de Noticias” is also wonderful and rich with strong melodies as is the epic “Debo Partirme en Dos”, although the latter has a “b” part with a chord progression that annoys the living hell out of me for some reason, and song goes on about one minute too long. “Que Se Puede Hacer con el Amor” is f-ing gorgeous as well, and the the last track is good enough to name a whole album after it.

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Silvio Rodríguez – Al final de este viaje (1978) in 320kbs em pee tree

Silvio Rodríguez – Al final de este viaje (1978) in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO

Mississippi John Hurt – The Complete Studio Recordings (2000)

john hurt

Blues for all seasons and any time of day.

I must have been about seventeen years old when I came across a copy of Mississippi John Hurt`s album “Today” at what was then one of two shops that sold vinyl in the small city where I was working as either a dishwasher or a line cook or something and living in a crappy apartment. They kept all their vinyl in a cellar downstairs from the CDs and VHS rental business that was probably paying their bills. On this particular week they were clearing out a bunch of stuff that had been there forever and which I guess they assumed nobody really wanted. I went home with armloads of Junior Wells, Memphis Slim, Professor Longhair, and other delights. I remember with great clarity specifically flipping through this one stack of albums and finding “Today” on Vanguard Records, still sealed, and being struck immediately by the cover. Here was this serene, smiling man radiating warmth and some kind of otherworldly understanding that I needed to buy that record, right then and there, and take it home so it would change my life.

I had never heard anything like it before. I was well-groomed in the harsher, rough-shod, angrier Delta Blues of Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Fred McDowell. I had begun a love affair with blues piano players and was convinced I wanted to move to New Orleans after I saved some money, maybe sometime after I turned eighteen. But I had no real context for Mississippi John Hurt. There was just no way I could imagine Keith Richards shooting heroin while listening to this stuff. Sure, it had sadness in it, but also tranquility. Listening to John Hurt was an instantly soothing experience, more gratifying than any of the drugs I was currently poisoning myself with. His voice was incomparable, carrying in it all the clichés you could possibly think of about old wise black men who have transcended their suffering somehow. Resigning myself to never being to able to sing like him, I quickly devoted myself to learning how to play “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor.” Somehow that tune represented much of what I was loving in his sound, the syncopated movement, upbeat but not hurried, complex but not flashy, reminding me of what Scott Joplin might have sounded like if he were a guitarist, and then adding a major-7 chord change that just kills me every time it comes around. Most guitarists will recognize that Hurt’s playing may sound deceptively simple and natural but is actually quite complex. And the way his hands and voice working together was wonderful, often finishing a vocal line with his guitar rather than singing it. This was basically the only John Hurt song I would ever play, which is odd, because I am pretty sure I could have picked up quite a few of them after understanding his cross-picking patterns to the extent that I did. I think there was something about the magical quality of listening to that album for the first time, of hearing this man play his delicately strident, quietly confident guitar underneath his warm but also frail voice — something about that felt like a holy experience that I did not want to spoil by trying to learn all the man’s “secrets”. There are not too many male blues artists whose work was capable of evoking this level of nuance and beauty, haunting but never haunted.

This collection of this three studio albums is a godsend. The music could have been crammed onto two discs but not without splitting up one of them into two parts, and I appreciate the integrity of keeping the running order intact. The liner notes by John Milward are a good read, supplying a lot of essential background, anecdotes, and a sense of what it was like for John Hurt to be a black man performing for an almost exclusively white audience during the blues and folk revival of the 1960s. Although Hurt had recorded quite a few songs for Okeh Reocrds in the late 1920s, he had not been actively performing for decades before a couple of blues enthusiasts, inspired by the 78’s he cut for Okeh (two of which were included on the influential Anthology of American Folk Music released by the Folkways label in 1952) resolved to track him down. They found him where he was still living in the small unincorporated community of Avalon and working as a sharecropper, and convinced a reluctant and suspicious Hurt to travel with them to Washington D.C. and make some recordings. Listening to the results of those recordings made for the Library of Congress (collected in two volumes and issued recently as “D.C. Blues” on the Fuel 2000 label), you can hear that while his voice is still warm, his finger-picking is not quite as strong as it had been, or would be again. Simply an issue of being out of practice, something that would soon change, and quickly. Hurt would soon become a darling of the new folk revival of the 1960s.

The fairy-tale story of the performer floundering in obscurity (otherwise known as normal, daily existence for most of us) and being rediscovered is such an overworked trope it merits its own Jungian archetype. Someday I want to make a catalog of them all in a table or spreadsheet, starting with people like John Hurt, and Cartola (born Agenor de Oliveira) who although he had been one of Brazil’s foremost and in-demand samba composers in the 1930s had been ‘rediscovered’ working at a car wash in the mid-1950s by a music journalist who recognized him. Although getting a chance to live out the last of your days playing the music you love to adoring audiences in cozy clubs or massive folk festivals is not a bad note to go out of this world on, he didn’t get rich from it and never made a dime off his own recordings. As John Milward writes, Hurt was still a subaltern in American society, “the only difference was that the white people he worked for now didn’t own farm or cattle, but coffeehouses and record companies.” Milward recounts how Hurt befriended another southerner and Vanguard artist, white folk singer Patrick Sky, who produced the sessions that became these three albums, and spent much time with Hurt hanging around with Dave Van Ronk and getting loaded. Sky had to more or less lock everyone else out of the studio to get Hurt to loosen up enough to do his thing and capture these moments. Something I never realized until coming across this collection of all three albums was that Mississippi John Hurt never even got to see the impact of these recordings, as he passed away in the same year they began to be released.

While many blues enthusiasts — purists as many of them tend to be — swear that the 1920s 78s are superior, I am very attached to these recordings, particularly “Today.” Perhaps because I am, at heart, a romantic, and it was in this aural context that I encountered John Hurt. I am also a sucker for well-made recordings rather than scratchy 78s, and my hipster friends who love scratchy 78s can laugh at me if they want, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

john hurt

“Today”
Released 1966 on Vanguard VSD-79220

Of the three albums presented in this collection, “Today” still remains my favorite. As I already stated, sentimental reasons come into play here, but it is also a very, very strong listening experience. The aforementioned “Pallet” which — unbeknownst to me at the time – was largely a reworking of Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train”, and which was also covered by none other than Gillian Welch years after I discovered the song. “Corrina, Corrina” is also a song that’s always been dear to me and has taken on unintended nuances I never expected, folding my own stories into his. “Coffee Blues” definitely gets and award for the best product-placement in a mid-60s acoustic blues song. Then there is the immortal, gorgeous rendition of Louis Collins. In fact “Today” features a whole lot of the songs he cut for Okeh, with the very notable exception of “Frankie” which is strangely left off all of these discs. But how many albums in your collection have the line, “Goddamn them sheep, goddamn them sheep” on them? None? That’s what I thought. So obviously, you need this album in your life.

john hurt

“The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt”
Released 1967 on Vanguard VSD-79248

“The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt”, released after his death, is just a vital even if not quite as strong as “Today.” The gospel of “When I Lay My Burden Down” is as uplifting as any hymnal, “Moaning the Blues” lays an accent on a low bass note that brings out the swamp in Hurt’s delta. The song also introduces a second-guitar (played by Sky if I am not mistaken) for the first time on these records. They would take this approach only a few times across the three days of recording that produced these albums, and it works quite well. Other highlights are “I’ve Got The Blues and I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and of course the iconic Stagolee, which is about a very bad man. Like bookends, the album closes with another gospel tune, “Nearer My God to Thee”.

john hurt

“Last Sessions”
Released 1972 on Vanguard VSD 79327

“Last Sessions” is sort of the clunker of the bunch. There are no bad songs on it (although his reading of ‘Goodnight Irene’ doesn’t do much for me personally) but it seems obvious to me why this material was kept in the vault until the 70s and left off the first two releases in favor of more inspired material. A lot of it just lacks the inspiration found on the material collected on the first two. Still, it has some essential music on it. “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home” is a blues touchstone, “Farther Along” is another spiritual anthem,”Shortnin’ Bread” stands out and makes me hungry, and “Good Morning, Carrie” shows a subtlety not found in a lot of blues, a song of unrequited love upon news that the object of his affection is about to be married to another. The second guitar on this one works really well. My favorite here, though, has to be “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” which has some of the best lyrics anywhere on this entire collection:

Blues all on the ocean, blues all in the air.
Can’t stay here no longer, I have no steamship fare.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

I do not work for pleasure, earthly peace I’ll see no more.
The only reason I work at all, is drive the world from my door.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

Vanguard did a very nice job on this set, albeit a little sparse on packaging and photography. The mastering is quite nice, superior to the CD pressing I’ve heard of “Today” (the only one I’ve ever come across on CD). In fact the mastering engineer was able to restore bass frequencies that were rolled off of the original vinyl pressings, although I have not sat down to do an A/B comparison to have any opinion about that.

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Elizabeth Cotten – Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (1958)

This album from 1958 had a profound influence on a great many people involved with the “folk revival” in the United States during the 1960s. Elizabeth Cotten played finger-style guitar and banjo that brings to mind her much better-known contemporary, Mississippi John Hurt, rooted in cross-picking patterns related to ragtime. Cotten, like Hurt, had basically quit playing for decades before being “rediscovered” and encouraged to take up her instrument as a full-time musician. Her influence is heard in early Bob Dylan, in Taj Mahal, in some of Jerry Garcia’s more interesting work, and especially in John Fahey. Her recording of the tune “Vastopol” (a corrupted spelling of “vestapol”, the name for an open-D or open-E tuning often used in blues) could have been played by Fahey, who did in fact record the same tune. Cotten was an amazing guitarist and a bad-ass banjo picker, although her voice was less immediately likeable than, say, the soothing timbre of John Hurt. But her voice`s imperfections are also its charm.

I first heard of Elizabeth Cotton when I was sitting around strumming somebody else’s acoustic guitar after a soundcheck, playing John Hurt’s song “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor”. I had learned that tune off a record I bought in a store in Kentucky that was closing out its vinyl cellar (an album I will most likely share here very soon). Somebody in the room asked what song it was and a minor debate ensued. On telling them it was a Mississippi John Hurt song, the owner of the guitar insisted it was an Elizabeth Cotton tune, “Freight Train.” Now, Freight Train is about as close to a “hit” song as any finger-style acoustic music could get, but at that point in my youth I was not familiar with it. And now it is obvious to me that, although it has some significant variations mostly in the rhythm, John Hurt basically stole his tune from her. It’s not big deal, since Cotten’s is still the more famous of the two songs. But Cotten herself is less known than Hurt. Why is that?

While not discounting the fact that Hurt left much more of a recorded legacy, the fact of Cotton’s gender is an obviously important factor. Notable exceptions like Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Tharpe notwithstanding, the blues has always been a masculine (and often machista or misogynicstic) music genre. In any popular music women tend to be valorized for aesthetic beauty in terms of an agreeable or powerful voice and countenance and not for their instrumental prowess, even when they possess both all of these.

The scenario of Cotten’s discovery speaks volumes about the dynamics of race and sexuality in the music business, in the folk revival, and in US society at the mid-2oth century. She taught herself guitar by borrowing her brother’s instrument on the sly until she was able to manage to get her own. She only performed with her siblings in private settings for the first part of her life. She made her living working as a maid, housekeeper, and domestic servant, and was working in that capacity for none other than the Seeger family when she randomly picked up a guitar one day and began singing old songs to a young Peggy Seeger. Thus began her “rediscovery” and, essentially, patronage by Pete and Mike Seeger and the Folkways label who released her two studio albums in the late 50s and early 60s. In the final decades of her life she was able to make her living full-time as a musician, bought a house, and received accolades and awards for her cultural contributions. But she played her music to an audience composed mostly of white, educated young people who were as culturally removed from her own life experience as you could get. This is not to minimize the accomplishments of the civil rights alliances that crossed class and racial boundaries, nor the opportunities Cotton eventually had to live a reasonably comfortable life as a musician. But the question that nags at me is – How many other Elizabeth Cotten’s were out there, women who played and sang enchanting music but put it aside for pursuits “proper” to the fairer sex, who were never in the lucky position of being “discovered” by important cultural aristocrats like the Seeger’s? It’s an unanswerable question. Recording opportunities in her day required capital, technology, recognition. Thank the gods for music scholars and researchers like Seeger, Alan Lomax, and others who combed the United States hoping to document what they saw as “vanishing” traditions. But they could never capture it all, and our collective musical memories still largely depend on the contingencies of chance and positionality.

Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes
Originally released in 1958
CD reissue, Smithsonian / Folkways (SF 40009)

1. Wilson rag 1:40
2. Freight train 2:46
3. Going down the road feeling bad 2:12
4. I don’t love nobody 1:14
5. Ain’t got no honey baby now 0:57
6. Graduation march 2:32
7. Honey baby your papa cares for you 2:15
8. Vastopol 2:10
9. Here old rattler here / Sent for my fiddle sent for my bow (Sent for my fiddle sent for my son) / Georgia Buck 3:48
10. Run…run / Mama your son done gone 2:18
11. Sweet bye and bye / What a friend we have in Jesus 3:02
12. Oh babe it ain’t no lie 4:43
13. Spanish Flang Dang 2:51
14. When I get home 2:22


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Hyldon – Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda (1975)

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HYLDON
“Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda”
1975 Polydor

1. Guitarras Violinos e Instrumentos de Samba
2. Na Sombra de Uma Árvore
3. Vamos Passear de Bicicleta
4. Acontecimento
5. Vida Engraçada
6. As Dores do Mundo
7. Na Rua, na Chuva, na Fazenda (Casinha de Sapê)
8. Sábado e Domingo
(Hyldon / Neném)
9. Eleonora
10. Balanço do Violão
(Hyldon / Beto Moura)
11. Quando a Noite Vem
12. Meu Patuá

All songs by Hyldon unless otherwise noted.
EAC->FLAC. Portuguese diacriticals removed from filenames, restored in ID Tags

Here is a record I have been meaning to share here forever and ever. Not sure why I was holding out on you. Maybe I’m cruel, or maybe I couldn’t decide if some of you deserve it. Alas I finally resolved myself to the idea that quite a few of you probably do NOT deserve to hear an album this good, but it’s unfair to the rest for me to continue hoarding it. So with that in mind, I bring you this wonderfully languid-like-a-summer-breeze of an album. In fact in my world it might be the perfect summer album, which means I’ll be putting it on even more often now that summer is just beginning here. Sorry for those of you preparing for months of miserable cold and grey skies, but that’s a ‘you’ problem.

So this is Hyldon’s first album. He would never ever surpass it. Although his early records are as a whole all pretty good, this one is just a monster. Hyldon first made his name as a songwriter and producer before becoming a recording artist in his own right, and its partly that meticulous sensibility that makes this record such a pleasure to listen to. It is recorded amazing well and mixed perfectly, bursting with warmth and clarity in all its instrumentation and vocal arrangements. For once I can also say I am happy as punch with the mastering job on a reissue, it sparkles like analog goodness.

Hyldon’s name rests alongside Cassiano and Tim Maia in the holy trilogy of Brazilian soul songwriters. He has a more “folk” approach to either of those, and those of you enthralled by the work of Terry Callier or Jon Lucien should find something to engage with here. But like a lot of great soul music from the 70s, the palette is stylistically eclectic. There is even a few whispy traces of “iê, iê, iê” in a couple places.

Hyldon’s limited vocal range may account for why he’s not quite a household name – most Brazilians are probably more familiar with the versions of his songs recorded by Tim Maia, for example – but it’s damn impressive what he does with melodies and grooves locked tight and nestled one inside the other. Like spooning. Strings, brass, woodwinds, acoustic and electric guitars, a crisp drum kit, cuica, organ, electric piano, analog synths, are all used very intelligently and strategically – sometimes all at once, while never overpowering the song. I’m honestly blown away by the production on this record. I could say “there’s not a bad song on it,” as the phrase goes among my brethren. But that would not be accurate, because the point here is that all the songs are REALLY GOOD. I can’t even sit here and talk about album highlights, because it’s all too much. If you want that kind of thing, listen to it and pick your own.

The reissue is really a labor of love, with previously unissued photographs and copious notes about each individual song. We get to hear about Hyldon’s fling with Maria Crueza and him basically blowing her off (“I loved her more like a brother..” WTF was he thinking? It’s Maria Crueza!!), about him hanging out on the beach taking acid, of songs taking inspiration from Schopenhaur, Machado de Assis, and Arthur C. Clarke. He provides details of conversations and events leading up to the idea for a song – such detail, in fact, that I sometimes wonder if he’s just making this shit up. But presuming he just has an incredible memory, in spite or perhaps because of his extra-curricular beach activities, it is really pretty cool for him to share all this info with us. His lyrics are not going to win any accolades from Chico Buarque – we learn from his commentary, for example, that his song about riding a bicycle with his girlfriend “Vamos Passear de Bicicleta” was actually inspired by his idea that it would be really cool to ride around with a girlfriend together on bicycles, stopping for ice-cream or to skim rocks of a lake, sing her songs in a flowery meadow, and so on. Who would have guessed? Granted this example is not terribly fair to Hyldon – more sober songs like “As Dores do Mundo” and the title track “Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda”, are not silly at all. In fact I find them to emote quite moving stuff I can easily relate to. What Hyldon’s songs might lack in formal lyrical complexity, they make up for with their sincerity – you can feel that he really means what he’s singing about, and I can’t help being charmed by that. The anecdotes he provides only adds to that charm.

My apologies if this post sounds more whimsical and ‘lite’ than others on this blog. Perhaps it’s because this album makes me genuinely happy, and there’s not too much I can say that about lately. In fact I have listened to this album twice today while preparing the contents of this post. Since I also tend to write the commentary while listening, I can credit Hyldon with any pleasure you’ve derived reading this. All shortcomings are of course my own.

I seriously went back and forth about a dozen times about the idea of including some song samples here. Even if it were just the A- and B-sides of the single released before the album. But I just can’t. This is a record to put on and listen to from start to finish. So you’ll just have to trust me and check this one out.

With the money from this album, Hyldon was at last able to buy himself a new shirt.

Oh, now that I am done with gushing about how great the album, I can find one fault — the addition of two pointless remixes to the CD reissue, courtesy of the group Bossacucanova. I am no Luddite, but I fail to see how their electronic treatment of “As Dores do Mundo” does anything but murder the song. I mean, it’s really awful. The original vibe just vaporizes into the techno ether. The second remix, of the title track, fares much better with its dub styling of the song. In fact, it’s actually listenable. I still don’t understand the point of including these. If it is some sort of nod to “updating” the relevance of the album, it’s utterly unnecessary. This album still sounds completely fresh.

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Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) (2001) 320kbs

Gillian Welch
Time (The Revelator) 320kbs
Released 2001

I’ve had a lot of insomnia this year. Dark nights of the soul or something like that. A few things have gotten me through those nights more or less intact — the records of Anne Briggs, Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, certain Indian ragas, an ambient project called Mirror, and this record from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. This is my favorite of hers. I feel it’s her most honest and heartfelt, away from her old-timey Appalachian revivalism and towards pure musical expression. A different kind of gooseflesh soul music for the twilight hours. When you listen closely, “I Dream A Highway” is the shortest folk song you will ever hear, ringing out unlike anything you knew before or since. This record has kept me company when I had no other. I hope it helps someone else out there too.

1. Revelator
2. My First Lover
3. Dear Someone
4. Red Clay Halo
5. April the 14th Part 1
6. I Want So Sing That Rock and Roll
7. Elvis Presley Blues
8. Ruination Day Part 2
9. Everything Is Free
10. I Dream a Highway