Monday, October 8, 2012

Sally Cowan - Yankee Lady (Private Press, 1976)

This private press came out of Lincoln, Nebraska. Yankee Lady, like plenty of other albums by aspiring folk singers from the seventies, contains covers of distinguished artists like Joni Mitchell, Jesse Winchester, and Guy Clark. Sally Cowan sings and occasionally plays rhythm guitar, with accompaniment by a slew of Nebraskan musicians. There's no digital trace of Cowan on the web, but a few other performers on the album can be traced to current bands based in or around Nebraska: Doug Dickeson plays lead guitar on a few tracks; Steve Hanson and Gary Howe play on two country/bluegrass number. The four tracks on the A side have bare instrumentation and a folk sound typical of the times. The B side features the bluegrass-oriented instrumentation, yielding a country sound. This is a pretty hard album to find on vinyl, and you won't see it on disc, so download it here.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Janet Smith - Vol. I: The Unicorn and Other Songs Both Old & New (Takoma, 1970)

Janet Smith's Vol. I was released on John Fahey's Takoma label and has never been reissued. She was the second female artist to be released on the label. The album features a mix of self-penned songs, traditional pieces and covers of material by artists such as Arlo Guthrie and Mayne Smith. Janet plays acoustic and sings, with second guitar accompaniment by Bob Wilson. Little information can be found about either artist, and this may be their only recording. Get it here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Rich Kirby & Michael Kline - They Can't Put It Back (June Appal Recordings, 1977)

June Appal Recordings was established in 1974 to distribute music from Central Appalachia. It is a faction of Appalshop, a multimedia and education center located in Kentucky. Appalshop produces film, theater, music and multimedia centered around Appalachian culture. They Can't Put It Back is an anthology of mining songs and a rare piece of 70's Americana. Most of the songs are ballads that reflect the struggles of mining towns and their inhabitants. I've included scans of the accompanying book and insert. Download it here.

Clannad - Clannad (Phillips, 1973)

Clannad is probably best known as the family band that introduced the world to Enya, and for their celtic inspired new age pop hit "Theme From Harry's Game." But before the days of digital synthesizers, Clannad's sound was rooted in traditional Irish music. This influence can be heard on their eponymous debut, as well as the influence of their contemporaries The Pentangle. Most of the songs are group arrangements of traditional tunes with a few self-penned pieces. Beyond the traditional acoustic instruments like harp, mandola and tin whistle, you can hear the occasional pop and jazz influence, especially in the drumming. Even with their later success, Clannad's first album was only released on vinyl in Ireland and Canada. Shanachie Records, who reissued much of their later albums, didn't revisit their first, keeping it hard to find. You can download it here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Robbie Basho - Visions of the Country (Windham Hill, 1978)

Visions of the Country was the fifth album released by folk/new age label Windham Hill. When Windham Hill was bought out by Sony in 1980, this album was one of the few that didn't get reissued for national distribution. It's understandable, upon listening, why label execs felt Robbie Basho's work was inconsistent with the rest of Windham Hill's catalog. There's an intensity in these songs, especially in Basho's singing, that can't be found on their other recordings. The album is mostly comprised of fingerstyle songs that lilt between folk ballad and Basho's signature steel-string raga forms. Two haunting and emotional songs for piano, "Orphan's Lament" and the instrumental "Leaf In The Wind" start the second side. Like most of Basho's work, Visions of the Country is meditative and conjures pastoral images. Yet unique to this album is a prevailing sense of longing, obvious on the track "Orphans Lament" but more subdued and less directed on others. The songs are not sad, though. They have a feeling more akin to being alone with your thoughts in the wilderness, and the album is filled with allusions to nature. As the artist states in an essay on the insert, "I would paint for you a portrait of North America, as a beautiful woman, when she was young and untamed, untrammeled upon and unshamed." I've included images of the insert. And I apologize for the slight surface noise. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dave Ellis - Album (Sonet 1973)

I've chosen a personal favorite record for my first post. Released in 1973 on the Swedish jazz label Sonet, Album was the first solo effort by English singer/songwriter Dave Ellis. Now heralded as an influential acoustic guitar record, it suffered from lack of label support and it has remained well hidden. He has often been compared to contemporaries such as Bert Jansch, Nic Jones, and Davey Graham for his proficiency on guitar and complex compositions that incorporate many styles. Unlike much of the work by the aforementioned artists, the songs on Album don't tread too heavily on traditional folk territory. Each song is penned by Dave, and the heavy jazz influence and structural complexity make this album hard to categorize. Dave is still performing and releasing albums as part of the duo Dave & Boo. You can view their website and read more about Dave's career here. Listen to Album here.