Agony Shorthand

Monday, December 27, 2004

This 2004 compilation of magickal modern folksters was put out by the annoying hippie broadsheet ARTHUR, and more specifically, chosen and cobbled together by modern hippie and compilation participant DEVENDRA BANHART. I've got no quarrel at all with Mr. Banhart; the more I hear from and read about him, the more I get comfortable with his freak-flag-flying shamanistic shtick. He's also got a pretty good ear for what makes an ear-pleasing folk song. The ratio of hits to misses on this compilation is pretty strong, and proves that there's something brewing out there that's causing young people to look inward, kick off their shoes and go acoustic. Not surprisingly, my favorites are the talented San Francisco triad of VETIVER, JOANNA NEWSOM and Devendra himself, who actually brings lost 1970s UK folkie VASHTI BUNYAN back from the outer Hebrides to duet with him on "Rejoicing In The Hands" (all three contribute album tracks, so if you're got their records then you've heard these numbers already). There's one other stunner in the top tier: JOSEPHINE FOSTER and her "Little Life", which is a real back-porch tearjerker, channeling both the Kentucky woods and Stonehenge to create something pretty friggin' special. This isn't the folk music my mom used to have lying around (Joan Baez and whatnot) -- this is as deep and as intricate as a loom, and about as anachronistic. And that's cool.

What else is good. Even though WHITE MAGIC's singer sounds like she's trying to start a Minnie Ripperton revival, their track ("Don't Need" -- sorry, not the Deep Wound song) is weirdly loopy and strung-out acoustic psych. There's this band TROLL who I once saw middle between NUMBERS and ERASE ERRATA (!) who sound like a Byrds-infused Mamas & The Papas (they're also the only ones who go electric on this CD -- Judas!!). Can you imagine actually enjoying music made by someone named SCOUT NIBLETT? You'd think with a name like that she'd be a scrappy lil' tomboy with dirty elbows, trying to show the big kids she can hold her own, and on this comp she sure does with a ghostly number called "Wet Road". What about the bad? Oh, there's a few: I'm sorry, SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE sounds like the sort of fumble-fingered poseur/dilettante fanzine people might pretend to rave about if the guy was also in a well-loved rocknroll band. This one's in Comets On Fire, and I can picture him waking up in a nervous sweat after a fantasy dream of John Fahey @ the Freight & Salvage, 1967. But then again, "San Francisco mornings can be so hazy/Everybody waking up drunk and lazy" is a pretty cool chorus, hunh? What about "ANTONY"'s closing rennaissance pleasure faire-meets-Bryan Ferry "The Lake"? Can you hang in there for all 4:48? I couldn't. But picking the bitter fruit off such a compilation is easy, fish in a barrel activity. Far more difficult is to curate a well-put together collection of modern folk-based oddballs, and Banhart's done a splendid job here. Send your money directly to Arthur Magazine, and make sure to tell them you don't want any of your cash routed to the goddamn war machine!