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


Elizabeth Cotten – Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (1958) in 320 kbs em pee three

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

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

John Fahey – The Voice of the Turtle (1968) VBR

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JOHN FAHEY
Voice of the Turtle

Released 1968,Takoma Records
Issued on CD 1996

1. Bottleneck Blues 3:03
2. Bill Cheatum 1:52
3. Lewisdale Blues 2:13
4. Bean Vine Blues 2:42
5. Bean Vine Blues 2:48
6. A Raga Called Pat 9:03
7. A Raga Called Pat 4:25
8. Train 1:44
9. Je Ne Me Suis Revellais Matin Pas En May 2:19
10. The Story Of Dorothy Gooch 5:24
11. Nine-Pound Hammer 1:57
12. Lonesome Valley 1:42

Review by Richie Ubermench

Like some of John Fahey’s other projects in the ’60s, this was actually recorded and assembled over a few years, and primarily composed of duets with various other artists (including overdubs with his own pseudonym, “Blind Joe Death”). One of his more obscure early efforts, Voice of the Turtle is both able and wildly eclectic, going from scratchy emulations of early blues 78s and country fiddle tunes to haunting guitar-flute combinations and eerie ragas. “A Raga Called Pat, Part III” and “Part IV” is a particularly ambitious piece, its disquieting swooping slide and brief bits of electronic white noise reverb veering into experimental psychedelia. Most of this is pretty traditional and acoustic in tone, however, though it has the undercurrent of dark, uneasy tension that gives much of Fahey’s ’60s material its intriguing combination of meditation and restlessness.

Someone wrote on some website you might know:

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
–, December 14, 2003
By Benjamin S. Sandstrom (Minnetonka, MN United States)
I don’t know the complete story behind this record in reference to it being a hoax or a put-on or who played what. What I do know is that it’s my favorite John Fahey record, and if that makes me less enlightened than the average Fahey fan, I can live with that.

I don’t think it’s important that this record spends less time spotlighting Fahey’s guitar virtuosity than is normally the case. This is a record that’s about a certain ambience created by collage, and the fact that Fahey uses unknown accompanists and found sounds makes it no less authentic or personal than his other guitar-only recordings that the Byronic Fahey enthusiasts long for. What’s essentially important about the record is that Fahey was responsible for it, assembled it, and that it was born out of his head, if not always his hand. That’s why it’s valid.

As much of a purist as Fahey could be – perhaps wishing that he were around 40 years earlier to learn first-hand from his influences – he wasn’t an irrational purist. By that I mean he wasn’t afraid to like or use technology. He didn’t use technology as paint, so to speak, but rather as his brush, and ‘Voice of the Turtle’ was his most complete technological statement. It was extremely rare that Fahey used an electronic sound in his music, yet the way he assembled certain songs – and the the entire ‘Voice of the Turtle’ album – was influenced by modern technology in the form of found sounds and the occasional electronic drone or squak. The third and fourth ‘A Raga Called Pat’s on ‘Voice of the Turtle’, as well as the first two on ‘Days Have Gone By’ are not adventurous because they abandon his roots, they’re adventurous because they express his roots and vision differently. Instead of simulating an environment, an era, or a mood on guitar, Fahey gives them to you – straight-up – and then does his musical thing, whether it be guitar or something else, on top of it, making those pieces into virtual field recordings, and what’s more ‘Fahey’ than a field recording? That’s right – nothing. His roots and vision did not change on those pieces.

By saying that ‘Voice of the Turtle’ was Fahey’s most complete technological statement, I don’t imply that he necessarily used more technology than on any other record. It has to do with the coherence of the technology and how it brings the record together rather than isolating certain songs as in the case of ‘Days Have Gone By’ and ‘Requia’. The way the ‘A Raga Called Pat’s, ‘The Story of Dorothy Gooch, Part 1’ and the drone that opens and closes the record work against the more traditional material is purposeful, not merely experimental. The above songs give the more upbeat traditional pieces an interesting subtext of menace that suggests that even in good times, trouble is never far. They also re-inforce the doom-laden crossroads mythology that Fahey liked to play with in some of his delta blues pieces.

I can understand how ‘Voice of the Turtle’ can be lost on some who appreciate Fahey’s technique first and foremost, but what I can’t understand is why Fahey’s technique is first and foremost. He was one of the greatest artists of his time, avoiding retro by taking the time to understand history and then coming back again into the present to show us what he found and how it’s really the same.

John Fahey – Days Have Gone By (1967) VBR

Sometimes, when I wake up on a summer morning, I listen to John Fahey.

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JOHN FAHEY
Days Have Gone By, Volume 6

(1967; Reissued 2006 Takoma UK)

1. Revolt of the Dyke Brigade
2. Impressions of Susan
3. Joe Kirby Blues
4. Night Train of Valhalla
5. Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California
6. Raga Called Pat, Pt. 1
7. Raga Called Pat, Pt. 2
8. My Shepherd Will Supply My Needs
9. My Grandfather’s Clock
10. Days Have Gone By
11. We Should Be Building

Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

Sam Graham once referred to Fahey as the “curmudgeon of the acoustic guitar,” while producer Samuel Charters noted that Fahey “was the only artist I ever worked with whose sales went down after he made public appearances.” This tumultuous spirit, in turn, made tumultuous music on albums like Days Have Gone By, filled with odd harmonics, discord, and rare beauty. The esoteric titles like “Night Train of Valhalla” stand beside more abrasive ones like “The Revolt of the Dyke Brigade.” Fahey’s guitar work on the latter song, however, does little to evoke the title. Instead, it reminds one of what might happen if a guitar player from the Far East, familiar with open tunings, interpreted Blind Blake. “Impressions of Susan” combines the same odd tunings with nice, and at times joyful, fingerpicking. Dissonance, though, remains the primary mood that Fahey’s guitar resonates. “The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California” begins with a lovely cascade of notes, only to fall into odd harmonics that create a pensive foreboding. To call attention to the disharmony and discord, though, is not a criticism. Days Have Gone By, like all of Fahey’s early- and mid-’60s work, expands American blues traditions by enriching the palette of the guitar with Eastern tunings. He may create a challenging work like “A Raga Called Pat–Part Two” that is difficult to interpret, but its opulence is undeniable. Fahey has often been grouped with new age music but this — especially with his early work — is somewhat of a misnomer. New age strives to build harmony; Fahey revels in conflict. Days Have Gone By is another rewarding reissue of the master’s classic ’60s work and will be eagerly greeted by guitar aficionados.