Comparable to the folk revival of the early ’60s, today’s musicians, fans and critics are reviving the music they find important, influential and overlooked, bringing it to the foreground of pop culture. While the folk revival made John Hurt, Leadbelly and Son House household names, the reissues of today have unearthed well-known gems of the outsider folk of the ’70s such as Vashti Bunyan and Sibylle Baier. Just as it took Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to champion many of the old folk singers to the limelight, Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart and J. Mascis have all invoked, promoted and even played with the two aforementioned psych folkers. The psychedelic folk of the ’70s provides a juxtaposition of experimentation with tradition as well as the tragic with the pastoral, which resonates profoundly with disenchanted and downtrodden hipsters everywhere.
As the revival of the psychedelic canon spreads, more and more invaluable works are unearthed. Whether you choose the emergence of the literally hermetic Jandek, the Eastern European progessive rock of Sarolta Zalatnay or Selda, Lobos Fiser’s score for the movie Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, or even the music concrete via jazz with Sun Ra, there is an album for anyone in the psychedelic revival.
At KCPR, we are currently featuring three phenomenal albums by musicians all but forgotten. De Stijl Records released two of these albums, Ed Askew’s “Little Eyes” and Michael Yonker’s “Grimwood.” Ed Askew’s album at first sounds straightforward, but when his lyrics materialize and you realize what sounds like a strummed guitar is actually a 10-stringed Martin Tipple meticulously melded with Askew’s harmonica, the emotive impact is immeasurable. The infamous ESP label released Askew’s first album, “Ask the Unicorn” in ’69, but “Little Eyes” went unheard until now. Yonkers’ “Grimwood” follows a more haunted tone; his homemade guitars and fascinating song writing leave the listener disoriented and lost. Somehow their lives couldn’t help but follow the forsaken and forlorn lyrics of their music as Askew stopped playing for 30 years due to carpal tunnel syndrome and Yonkers was permanently disabled in a warehouse accident.
Our third reissue is by Bobb Trimble, an enigmatic young man that recorded two albums at the birth of the ’80s. He attempts to reconcile the psychedelic music of the Canterbury scene of the ’70s that harvested Pink Floyd, the eccentric disco of Bowie and Prince, and his more than affectionate admiration of the Beatles. His two albums, “Harvest of Dreams” and “Iron Curtain Innocence” (released this week by Secretly Canadian) are so bizarre and amazing at the same time that you must give it a listen. Be sure to keep in mind that he is a 20-year-old man with a backing band of 12-year-old neighborhood kids. Trimble is not immediately a folk musician, but the influences he draws upon are clearly psychedelic.
I had the pleasure of seeing Ed Askew’s second performance in 30 years at the Cakeshop in NYC. We sat cross-legged in the audience as he sang 10 of his songs a capella, his hands unable to play his instrument and only his harmonicas to accompany him. As he sang the words, “The sun never sets and the moon never shines,” all his angst and all his lost love became tangible, embodied by a 70-year-old man standing alone in a bar, staring into a world few of us have ever known.
Brian Cassidy is an English senior and KCPR music director. He’s also completely full of it.