Jan 23, 2009

Link Wray - (self-titled) 1971

To most people, Link Wray is only known for his early tremolo-drenched surf rock material. For some reason, this LP has largely been forgotten. In 1971, Wray recorded this sharp & bluesy country rock album for Polydor in his studio/shack ("Wray's Shack 3-Tracks", as painted on the side). The sound owes a clear debt to The Rolling Stones, with Wray obviously modeling his vocals after the Jagger template. On the other hand, Link Wray sounds the most like Sticky Fingers, which came out only 4 months earlier, and it actually beat the Stones to the punch as far as the simplified "roots" vamping of Exile on Main St.. I have to say, this album is much tighter than anything The Stones did. Link Wray can really play a guitar (and a bass, apparently - his bass playing is unusually high in the mix), and the album is drizzled with creamy fuzz solos that will make you vintage pedalheads out there cry. Wray pushed the envelope early in his career with fuzz tone, reverb and tremolo, and his awareness of tone (even with a largely acoustic album) is still evident. His songwriting is a bit shakier, but the top-notch playing & the clarity and warmth of the production make even the less engaging tracks enjoyable. And the good tracks are real knock-outs, especially the B-side opening stomp, "Fire and Brimstone". In all, this is one of those "could've been" major label releases that failed to connect with a clearly established audience (in this case, Neil Young fans) through no apparent fault of its own. This record's definitely an all-time favorite bargain bin find and comes highly recommended to fans of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Willie Nelson, Black Oak Arkensas, and Savoy Brown.

320 kbps mp3 format provided in title link - lossless wav format here.

Jan 16, 2009

Stefan Grossman - Yazoo Basin Boogie (1974)

Stefan Grossman is a Berkley-area fingerstyle guitarist, longtime friend of the legendary John Fahey, student of the ragtime blues master Rev. Gary Davis, and staple of the American and European folk blues revival of the sixties. He is better known as a pedagogue than as a performer, having published a hugely successful series of instructional LPs on how to play fingerstyle blues guitar (complete with tunings and tablature) through his label, Kicking Mule Records. His knowledge of the craft behind the blues and ragtime he emulates shows itself vivdly on this record. He's much less prone to lockstep arpeggiation and repetitive fingerings than the Takoma school of fingerpicking; his arrangements are more fully polyphonic, with distinct bass, tenor and alto voices.

A word of warning: Grossman has apparently often fallen prey to Davey Graham Disease - that is, the delusion that people want to hear him sing while he's playing guitar. While this album is entirely instrumental and quite solid, other albums of his I've checked out are a bit embarrassing. Though I can't claim to have explored his whole discography, my sense is this record is as good as it gets.

Flute & Voice - Imaginations of Light (1970)

Flute & Voice are a lesser-known but still entrancing German folk-psych duo. This is a vinyl transfer of Amber Soundroom's 2006 reissue of their first album, Imaginations of Light, including the obligatory added bonus track. In all we are treated to five tracks of blissed flute (shakuhachi?) and vocals (duh), along with buzzing sitar and spacious jazz guitar exchanges. My copy of the LP includes liner notes, but my ignorance of German leaves me with little to go on. This website has the best information on the group. Do not operate heavy machinery while ingesting this album.

320 kbps mp3 format provided in title link - lossless wav format here.

Mark Fry - Dreaming with Alice (1972)

This is a record that has long been shrouded in mystery. While the extremely rare original LPs fetched thousands of dollars from elite record collectors, extensive bootlegging gave the album enough notoriety to prompt a host of speculation on who this 19 year old was and how on earth he created such a masterpiece. The files offered here are transfers from a 2006 vinyl reissue by Sunbeam Records, complete with original artwork and the elusive Fry's cooperation (and liner notes!).

Dreaming With Alice is about as close as I can imagine to a definitive acid folk album; its hushed tones are both sunny and lurking, lucid and stoned. Picture a precocious adolescent Donovan producing a work equal to the eerie dollhouse folk of For Little Ones or HMS Donovan while avoiding the self-conscious artifice Mr. Leitch often fell victim to. Strains of early Incredible String Band, Syd Barrett, Pearls Before Swine, and Tyrannosaurus Rex also surface, but Mark Fry's music does more than synthesize his influences. Dreaming with Alice is gorgeously innocent and egolessly self-assured in a way that no career musician could match. This is pure ear candy for Carollesque tea partiers, twee folk strummers and navel-gazing psychonauts alike.

320 kbps mp3 format provided in title link - lossless wav format here.

Jan 14, 2009

Bismillah Khan - First LP Record (1961)

Ustad Bismillah Khan is widely recognized as the finest shehnai player of his generation. The shehnai is a short quadruple-reed instrument which I can personally attest is very hard to play, so his mastery of breath technique and fingering is all the more impressive to me. I've uploaded these files from a CD version of his first LP.

The two raags on this disc have a very jazzy quality - something that brings to mind a blending of Yusef Lateef, Pharaoh Sanders & Tony Conrad. Nonetheless, it is completely ensconced within the classical hindustani raga tradition, so it avoids any Westernized "world music" kitsch. Khan achieves almost unfathomably fluent meends ( portamenti) through an even rolling of his fingers over the stops; this allows his shehnai to sound like a smoothly overdriven electric violin, a soulful trombone, a Coltraney soprano sax, or even a virtuosic kazoo.

He once said,

“ Even if the world ends, the music will still survive ”

Clearly, this is deep head space material.

Hariprasad Chaurasia

Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia is probably the most renowned master of the bansuri (Indian bamboo flute), and with good reason. Read here for more biographical and discographical information. The linked album is called "Legends - Volume 1". I'll be posting the other 4 volumes in the comments section.