Maybe it’s just me, but in the years following Jack Rose’s passing, it felt like American Primitive guitarists took a moment not only to grieve but also to wonder what this music meant going forward. It was never lost, just needed time to regroup and, boy, has 2013 been overwhelming in the best possible way.
Over at NPR Music, I’ve written about 5 current releases that celebrate and extend American Primitive music, but you and I both know that’s limiting. Here is a list of 36 notable LPs, tapes and digital-only albums by artists that would’ve made Jack Rose grin ear to ear, with a few reissues to dig into. (Linked titles go to full-album or song streams where available. This list is in no particular order and, I imagine, a few more records will come out by the end of the year.)
- Chuck Johnson, Crows in the Basilica: Mysterious and cyclonic solo acoustic record.
- William Tyler, Impossible Truth: A bold sense of melody that’s instantly hummable, like the entirety of Nashville’s Music Row reimagined.
- Glenn Jones, My Garden State: Deceptively simple and ever-so bittersweet.
- Steve Gunn, Time Off: Intones from many traditions (American, Indian, British, Gnawan) and gives the illusion that that the trio just cooked it all up overnight. Get chooglin’.
- Mike Gangloff, Poplar Hollow: A perfect blend of Gangloff’s work in Pelt and Black Twig Pickers that’s far more ambitious than it lets on.
- Steve Gunn & Mike Gangloff, Melodies for a Savage Fix: Deep, late-night drones and improvisations for gongs and guitars, gettin’ at that Lou Harrison vibe.
- Nathan Salsburg, Hard for to Win and Can’t Be Won: Patient and understated — perhaps the most “pure” in the style this year.
- Marisa Anderson, Mercury: Exposes and hides the mysteries of American music in two-minute, one-take tracks.
- Bill Orcutt, A History of Every One: You’ve never heard “Zip A Dee Doo Dah” like this… ever. The former Harry Pussy member takes novelty songs, work hollers, Disney tunes and hymns, and skewers them to his skittering, frenzied style.
- Chris Forsyth, Solar Motel: Pursues the unknown rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll’s rabbit hole instead of dancing around it.
- Daniel Bachman, Jesus I’m a Sinner: Sweetly and simply Bachman’s most straight-forward and spacious record in the tradition.
- Cian Nugent & the Cosmos, Born with the Caul: A loose jaunt that feels at home in the countryside as much as it does a dive.
- Sean Proper, Design Engine: The kind of rabid hare debut that’s messy and mesmerizing, but promising.
- Urpf Lanze, Procession of Talking Mirrors: Delta slides and pig grunts.
- Jenks Miller, Spirit Signal: Genre-splaying, noise-infected solo electric recordings from Horseback’s main dude. ’90s noise John Fahey revisionism in the grandest sense.
- Yousei Suzuki, The Scene from a Frame: Raw, warts-and-all solo guitar from Japan.
- Gary Lucas, Cinefantastique: Almost a counterpoint to Bill Orcutt’s A History of Every One with sweet, straight-forward and sometimes caustic takes on film music.
- Sam Moss, No Kingdom: Rooted in backwoods campfire songs and foggy dirges, Moss turns singer-songwriter and lands somewhere between the sweetness of Jimmie Rodgers and the urgency of Bill Mallonee.
- M. Mucci & B. Grossman, Dangerous Summer: Swirling 12-string prettiness in the James Blackshaw vein, with some tasteful electronics and hurdy gurdy flourishes throughout.
- Desert Heat, Cat Mask at Huggie Temple: Steve Gunn, John Truscinski and Cian Nugent in dust bowl boogie mode.
- Paul Metzger, Tombeaux: Droning, truly Weird Americana on the 23-string banjo that gets at Fahey’s Bartok obsession more than any other in this music.
- Danny Paul Grody, Between Two Worlds: Unorthodox 12-string guitar record from The Drift/Tarantel member that flits in and out of the tradition with ambient landscapes.
- Sarah Henson, Wildwood Hours: My favorite find while digging through the "American Primitive" tag on Bandcamp. Soulful Appalachian guitar and banjo music that almost sounds like a lost Jewelled Antler CDR in that homespun, crunched-leaves way.
- James Blackshaw & Lubomyr Melnyk, The Watchers: Two practitioners of “endless music” meet in a mesmerizing record that refuses categorization.
- Ryley Walker, The Bootleg: A better (for now) idea of what this Chicago guitarist is capable of until we get a proper full length. Think Bert Jansch with the swagger of Tim Buckley and you’re partly there.
- Horrible Houses, Written and Recorded Under the Influence of the Yellow House: Sketches and uncertain melodies from this Swedish guitarist that literally buried these tape recordings under a house.
- Hayden Pedigo, Seven Years Late: This kid barely looks 17, but definitely has the technique down and an unfocused, yet infectious approach.
- Alex Archibald, Western Life May Suit You Less: The instrumental work is good and seeking, attuned to the quiet Glenn Jones style more than anything.
- Luke Hirst, Farewell Adventures: Rather faithful to the first couple Fahey records, but nicely done.
- Robin Allender, Foxes in the Foyer: Circular melodies adorned with subtle samples and loops. Its charm makes a lot of sense given that Allender plays in film composer Yann Tiersen’s live band.
- Stara Rzeka, Cien chmury nad ukrytm polem: Starts innocently as Fahey worship, then buries all the melodies under bloated beats, straight-up black metal and whatever else. So bizarre.
- B.A. Canning Band, Normal Life: A rather John Zorn-like approach to Americana, drifting from cosmic country to bluegrass to mathy (?) honky-tonk in a delightfully weird and frenzied way.
Oh, and here are some worthwhile reissues, in case you still have some money left:
- Robbie Basho, Visions of the Country: The raga guitarist ain’t known for his singin’, but his baritone warble makes me wonder if Antony hadn’t heard this 1978 LP.
- Lena Hughes, Queen of the Flat-Top Guitar: Really simple and delightful tunes from a 1960s Midwestern lady who only intended them for friends and family. What a treasure.
- Don Bikoff, Celestial Explosion: The lone 1968 record grins with a bit of honky-tonk.
- John Fahey, The Transcendental Waterfall: Guitar Excusions 1962-1967: No unearthed material here, just the master’s first six albums on 180-gram vinyl in a sturdy box.
Photo: Hans van der Linden via Flickr