Folkways Records: Moses Asch and His Encyclopedia of Sound – A review


Folkways Records: Moses Asch and Tony Olmsted’s yawningly un-brilliant book

It’s hard being honest, risky, troubling and you can’t help but be disappointed with yourself for being such a negative old bitch, but there you have it, there’s nothing quite like the ‘truth’ subjective though it will I hope be.

If you are interested in Folk music, then Folkways records is a name you will know and be interested to know more of. With its distinctive unforgiving Lps, bound beautifully, with odd yet engaging cover art, illustrating the musical brilliance of everything and everyone from Native American Indians to New York Jews and Woody Guthrie to Bahamian Gospel groups. All the brainchild of Moses Asch; a name as much part of the American Folk revival as Lomax or Dylan.

It follows that if you are interested in Folkways then you will be interested in an account of the man who created the label and the label itself. It follows that you might buy this book in that case. Unfortunately it doesn’t follow that you will get enjoyment, knowledge, or anything remotely at all worthwhile from this missed opportunity of a book.

Frankly it reads like a poorly proof read thesis by a second-rate musicology student.

Tony Olmsted with access to the Smithsonian’s archive on Asch has done little more than present the end of year accounts of Folkways, there are few stories to enjoy, little of interest to anyone but a bank manager. Someone wishing to go back in time having learnt from Asch’s business mistakes might use the information contained to start a Folk label in 40s and 50s New York; but seriously this book would be of more use to an accountant than someone interested in music.

Olmsted hasn’t got a clue how to write, how to engage or how to tell a story. I expect that 10 or so years after writing this book he’s changed professions and is now a health and safety officer with ‘special understanding of the risk of paper cuts in the workplace’ and has published an in-depth study of this risk and it’s ‘relationship to the stationary cupboard of mid-west America’.

Missed Opportunity

There are 8 typographical errors before the 40th page, and that will no doubt be as many as I find in this book, because it’s going to be where I stop reading it.

Yawn . . . .

Folkways Records: Moses Asch and His Encyclopedia of Sound

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J.D McPherson – Signs and Signifiers + HiStyle Records Chicago


J.D McPherson – Signs and Signifiers

Rarely do I get the chance to listen to any music that isn’t in some way related to my main love, the music of Jamaica and the Caribbean, however, recently I have mostly been listening to this release. I all too infrequently spend my moolah on anything but the sweet sounds of Jamdown and yet I’d buy another copy of this cd if I had a good enough reason.

Read the Epilogue at the base of this page…!

Read on, to find out why…

Corkey is a Cat! – A short while ago a customer in the building supplies depot where I work, one Andy Corke, of Corke and Bellchamber general builders in the area of Crowborough, East Sussex, England and I engaged in another musical conversation. He, Corkey that is, what had recently been to Spain for a Rockabilly festival suggested that I check out one Bass player Jimmy Sutton, and one J.D. McPherson, Vocalist, Song Writer and Guitarist. The resultant You Tube session started early in the evening and lasted until a very late night. By the end of it I certainly knew who Jimmy Sutton was, had enjoyed the vocal stylings of J.D McPherson and I jess couldn’t get enough., yassuh, I wuz hooked!

How to honour the past, while creating newness of freshness like a blossom on the breeze….?

Histyle records, the label that produced this supreme long player prides itself in recording and releasing ‘exceptional roots music’. And with Jimmy Sutton at the helm, they will. No doubt about it.

He has equipped his Chicago based Histyle studio in state of the art Equipment. Equipment that was state of the art in the late 1950s and early 1960s that is. The studio is designed no doubt to give his recordings a sound unlikely to be equalled now, and perhaps even then. A pity for him in a way that his Long Players and other exquisite recordings have to be tuned into binary digits and pressed into little disgusting plastic coasters called cds (Yuk!). Though I understand one or two have made it to 45rpm records.

Indulgence,… no way jay

All this might to some seem like staring at your navel on a Saturday night with a bottle of weak beer and a bad show on the TV . . . but, what these guys have managed to do is create music that doesn’t suffer from an over indulgence in the past, but instead offers, not necessarily a new twist to 50s Rock n’ Roll, but something, an unknown something, something forward-looking, fresh, knowingly unheard and yet… as if you could have heard these tunes, countless times, as classics of an era long gone.

J.D.

He can sing this boy, variously sounding like an Eddie Cochran on tunes like ‘Dimes For Nickels’; and then riffing like Chuck Berry, or sounding on ‘Your love’ (All That I am Missing’) as if he might have been displaced from the 5 Royales for the crime of over exuberance, and with the merest hint of Jackie Wilson creeping in to his vocal ‘stylings’, he is multi gifted. Classic lines include from the now famous ‘North Side Girl’ – ‘I’ve got some good talk, but not enough game’ and from ‘I Can’t Complain’ – ‘I can’t complain, I stay pretty dry in the rain’. Going on to treat us to a guitar solo in the aforesaid ‘I Can’t Complain’ that he surely took a bottle of vintage 1950s drugstore pep pills in order to create? Ripping good stuff . . .

No amount of explanation can do what your ears can.

Just go get it Houndog, I’m listening to it while writing this, thinking, hell I could tell my readers who this might sound like, that it has a fine mix of rockin’ stormers, creepy ballads, and a strong hint of Tom Waits on a tune like ‘Country Boy’. There are Blues honourings, fabulously sensitive mixing, everything where it should be at the size it was always meant to be. A little distortion on the high end of the dry vocal, mixed down the middle to give the overall production that Mono ‘feel’ while at the same time keeping the spacewidth of the Stereo we associate later audio output with … and…. such sweetly recorded Brass, and Strings and what supreme arranging on the ‘extras’ and, and, and the list does and could go on.

Cosmic Daddy-O

And at the centre of it, circling around the gravitational pull of the black hole you thought was full up with enough Rockin’ good tunes to last us all another lifetime of listening, a whole heap of tunes that sound like they’ve been here forever, songs born with the universe, and every one of them, well almost every single one, a ‘Killer Diller’.

Web sites to check are:

http://www.histylerecords.com/

http://www.jdmcpherson.com/

Epilogue

So about a week after writing this blog article and sending a link to Jimmy Sutton, I get a record in the post, at first I think it’s just some eBay thing I’ve bought from the States turning up and then, I realise that Jimmy’s sent me the Lp (on vinyl) probably having read my comments here about recording to vinyl etc, as a lovely gift… what a great addition it is to not only be listening to some truly great music, but that the people behind it are so nice and friendly….. I’m still listening to the Lp a month after getting it, on frequent rotation. I can only say, you really need a copy, go and get one!

Lord Laro – The Rastafarian Love


Early tune mentions Rastafari

On Jamaica's Ken Khouri produced Kalypso label

Found this one recently, not in great condition, but plays okay and is interesting in that it features some nice Rasta style drumming and a strong Rastafarian theme throughout.

Here’s a link to the tune – Listen Here

Laro is a Trinidadian Calypsonian who recorded a number of tunes in Jamaica almost exclusively for the Khouri family at Federal. He is perhaps most well known to collectors for his Jamaican Referendum Calypso of 1961, this appears both on the Jamaican and Uk Kalypso labels. Laro still performs and is more widely associated with Trini Calypso, than Mento flavoured Jamaican Calypso.

Mouth to Mouth – Gallery of Dolls


All Mouth and No Trousers

The following is just my opinion, this is only one persons opinion, this opinion does not impinge on you having an opinion that differs. (Please read comments).

This record was found in a charity shop a few weeks ago, I bought it because it looked interesting. It looked interesting but it didn’t sound interesting; in fact it sounded derivative and flabby. So I sold it.

In my opinion it’s got to be the best example I’ve ever seen of record collector’s self inflating hype. The only thing anyone seems to know about it, was that some guy, who many thought an authority, once said in a book everyone is meant to have read that it was rare and exceptionally sought after. I say make up your own minds about music and it’s intrinsic worth, or you may end up with a record collection full of expensive records that you never want to listen to. I have a few like that, in fact I have a few hundred like that… in fact I have a copy of something by Musical Youth somewhere, did you know that Jackie Mittoo was involved with that band… blah blah bla bl bl bla blahhh…

The buyer asked me if I had any further information about it, I didn’t, only what I had listed in my eBay description from the site Worthless Trash.

So to surmise –  the guy buying it didn’t really know what it was, the guy on the informative website didn’t really know what it was, I didn’t know what it was and I’m guessing that the guy who recommended it in his book hadn’t heard it, or he wouldn’t have recommended it.

To add – Now that this post has been up for a couple of days and garnered some interest, one ex member of the band has been in touch (see comments below) and it appears that I have upset people with my own opinions and frankness, I have now toned down the above article, removed the MP3 and wish to make certain that people know that I’m only expressing my personal opinion. It is interesting to me that I heard the tunes with open ears and with no awareness of their near mythic reputation, if you’ve never heard of, or listened to the tunes before I’d like to hear your opinion.

Subsequently, the MP3s were added to the blog on the Worthless Trash site and it seems that more than a few of the comments there currently support my opinion that the tune isn’t really very exciting.

Reference Discs / Dubplates, One Offs


Limited to a Brighton production company.

Many moons ago, when the only people to have recording equipment were studios, end of the pier machine operators and definately not the general public, the only way to get a recording of yourself was to pay for an acetate to be created from your live performance. These are two pictures of the labels from just such acetates. The extra hole on the second picture was for locating the record when cutting it, preventing slippage. The hole on the other, is obsucred by the label, which has been placed over it.

Duo disc, apparently a well known supplier of acetates and equipment.

Musical Traces


MUSICAL TRACE ELEMENTS

Introduction ~ The idea is quite simple.

I read a book by Will Hodgkinson that outlined a trip to collect music around the British Isles, in true Cecil Sharpe manner. With modern digital recorder in hand, off he went, but I think he missed a trick or two and yet, I don’t have the time necessary to prove my theory. I can’t get in the car and just go prove that I could do it better, so I gave up on the idea of being the next best thing to Alan or John Lomax, or Moses Asch.

Then I asked myself the questions…. how would I have to do this in order to make it work? I’d need to do it from my virtual armchair. Could you be a recorder of Folk music, or rather people’s music from all over the world without leaving the confines of your own living room? Then it struck me. What if I started with someone I knew, asked them to record a song, or give me something they’d already done, with a little blurb about who they were and what they’d done, and then send me to the next link in the chain by helping me to contact, or contacting on my behalf someone else who made music.With the network provided by the Worldwide Web this would be possible for the first time since people began to make music on horses jawbones… it seemed like an interesting idea to me.

This process it occurred to me would lead me to somewhere I could never expect, to places I wouldn’t take myself. If I offered the blurb and the music (as a download) then others could follow the ‘Musical Traces’, hence the name of this blog.

So – That’s what I’m going to do, collect music without ever leaving my house… without wearing out shoe leather I’ll be a modern day Alan Lomax. No I won’t be documenting, no I won’t be transcribing, like he did, or archiving, or leaving music to dry up in a museum vault, but I will be collecting, and hopefully you will be hearing. It will all be Folk music that you hear, because whatever the music, it will be music of the people, made by the people.

The podcast/download space for the tunes is here – http://musical-traces.podOmatic.com and the RSS feed is here – http://musical-traces.podOmatic.com/rss2.xml

Mike Murphy January 2010

Collecting Music In Modern Britain


I just finished an interesting book by a chap called Will Hodgkinson, called ‘A Ballad of Britain’ in it he traces music around Great Britain, as if he were a modern day Alan Lomax, collecting it on the modern day equivalent of a wire recorder (though it was lomax’s dad actually that used one of those). Though I think he missed more than one or two tricks along the way, it is most definately an interesting read, including a section where he visits Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson in Robin’s Hood Bay in N. Yorkshire.

I once met Martin and Norma at a restaurant in Oxfordshire, near Bampton where I had been dancing with the South Downs Morris. He, in a strange twist was interested in the hand held recording device I was using to record Francis Shergold’s side that Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday.

http://willhodgkinson.turnpiece.net/

Amazon (not the only place selling it, describes it thus)

In 1903, the Victorian composer Cecil Sharp began a decade-long journey to collect folk songs that, he believed, captured the spirit of Great Britain.A century later, with the musical and cultural map of the country transformed, writer and journalist Will Hodgkinson sets out on a similar journey to find the songs that make up modern Britain. He looks at the unique relationship the British have with music, and tries to understand how the country has represented itself through song.