June 3rd, 2008

Tompkins Square set to release James Blackshaw’s
Litany of Echoes June 17th, 2008

Initially inspired by the guitarists of the 60’s Takoma label to teach himself fingerpicking, London-based musician James Blackshaw writes pieces primarily for solo 12-string guitar that share more in common with the minimalist works of composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Charlemagne Palestine, as well as French composers Claude Debussy and Erik Satie, than the blues/raga influence of his peers. Using drones, overtones and repeating patterns alongside a strong inclination for melody, Blackshaw creates instrumental music that is intelligent, hypnotic and unashamedly sentimental.

Blackshaw’s previous 2007 album for Tompkins Square, The Cloud Of Unknowing garnered huge acclaim from all corners of the globe from both listeners and critics alike, receiving effusive reviews in Pitchfork, The Wire, The Observer, The Times, Uncut, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Magnet and Acoustic Guitar, and earning him a slot opening in the UK and US for Jose Gonzalez during fall 2007. The Cloud of Unknowing was also listed as one of the 50 best albums of 2007 by The Wire and Pitchfork.

Litany of Echoes, Blackshaw’s sixth studio album in five years, shows a more mature, focused and, on the whole, accessible approach to composition. While the album often feels darker and more introspective in nature than on previous releases, many of the songs have a huge-sounding, classical quality to them. With Blackshaw adding some glistening piano work for the first time and Fran Bury returning to play swarms of sweeping string parts for violin and viola, Litany of Echoes is a truly original, affecting and timeless album from a guitarist/composer coming into his own.

April 18th, 2008

Praise for Imaginational Anthem

“The single most significant body of solo acoustic guitar music to be published in the 21st century so far” – Boomkat

“Solo Acoustic Guitar music to get excited about” – Variety

“I struggle to recall any recent comps that glide together as seamlessly as these Tompkins Square projects, and “Volume Three” is no exception. Contemplative, intricate, a simple but ornate school of folk that hangs effortlessly between the ancient and the avant-garde . . . I could listen to this stuff all day.” – John Mulvey, UNCUT

“Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem series has not just unearthed the continuing steel-string tradition, but made it relevant.” – eMusic

“Simply put, these are all essential recordings, they offer solid evidence of how the tradition continues from the ’60s to the present day in the same way that albums by Fahey, Kottke, Crandell, Lang, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, and countless others picked up on the lineages of the previous decades from folk, blues, prison songs and mountain and church music foundations, and brought it forth, shifted and changed and added and subtracted. This box is the latest entry in the long long logbook. Get it.” – 4.5 / 5 stars, All Music Guide

“Taken as a whole, these three albums provide a comprehensive overview of the ongoing American Primitive movement, and will likely provide a large enough resevoir to tide you over handsomely should that acoustic guitar drought ever come.”
- Pitchfork

April 16th, 2008

Imaginational Anthem box set – 4.5 star review – All Music Guide’s Thom Jurek

Imaginational Anthem Vols 1-3 box set – 4 1/2 stars All Music Guide :

Quietly but quickly, New York City’s Tompkins Square label is amassing a formidable catalog of outsider music. They’ve taken their time but it’s been worth every glorious minute. They’ve reissued long-gone yet seminal works such as Robbie Basho’s Venus in Cancer and Harry Taussig’s 1965 private-press album Fate Is Only Once, as well as the incredible multiple-disc box set of vintage 78 and field recordings called People Take Warning: Murder Ballads & Songs of Disaster 1913-1938, in a killer package with an introduction by Tom Waits. In addition to reissues — there are sets by brilliant and celebrated but widely under-the-radar jazz visionaries such as guitar wizard Bern Nix (best known for his work with Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time), pianist Ran Blake, and saxophonist Charles Gayle. Mostly, however, Tompkins Square has become the Takoma Records of the 21st century, issuing album after album from lesser known but legendary visionaries such as Peter Walker, Charlie Louvin, and Spencer Moore to name just three. Finally, the imprint has begun an aggressive campaign of documenting and reissuing rare recordings — and new ones — by younger players whose names are whispered about in awe in the underground communities where limited-edition CD and vinyl works are de rigeur; namely those by multi-instrumentalist Shawn David McMillen and guitarist James Blackshaw. The latter has been a bit of a coup: Tompkins Square has introduced the British musician’s work to American ears by releasing his brilliant Cloud of Unknowing in 2007 and reissuing his catalog.

One of the great lynchpins in the Tompkins Square approach to introducing its artists to hipsters everywhere (as well as fans of great acoustic music) is its Imaginational Anthems series. This slipcase box contains the first three volumes in the series, released between 2005 and 2008. Assembled and annotated by label boss Josh Rosenthal, these volumes are as wonderfully and carefully assembled as any of the early Takoma samplers. He puts these beautiful slabs together in such a way that the listener is transported aurally and “imaginationally” into a world where time ceases to exist, and sound is simply the reach of space itself. No dimensions, it’s all around you, through you, and over you. Volume one contained works by Jack Rose, Taussig, the late Sandy Bull, John Fahey, Nix, Max Ochs, Kaki King, Gyan and Terry Riley (yes, that Terry Riley), Suni McGrath, and others. It is a startling, surprising collection of very rare and seminal tracks by fabled legends of yore, unknowns musical alchemists and, in King’s case, a young visionary, but it the disc holds together beautifully, casting its spell over the listener profoundly and completely. The second installment in the series brought us lauded latecomers like Jose Gonzalez, Blackshaw, and Christina Carter, and placed that music in the context of its architects: Basho, Brit folk iconoclast Michael Chapman, Peter Lang, Rose, Sharron Krauss, and more. It’s a stunner in its labyrinthine construction and Rosenthal’s selections are poignant and precise. Finally, the third volume in the series that concludes this box — keep an eye out, will be more — is a wild selection of the near mythical. There are cuts by underground five-string banjoist George Stavis, guitarist Mark Fossom, and Richard Crandell (whose recordings are coming back into print after decades hidden from view) as well as players that are either well known or should be, such as Basho disciple Steffen Basho-Junghans, McMillen, R. Keenan Lawler (a monster resonator guitar picker), Matt Baldwin, Cian Nugent (no relation to Terrible Ted), Ben Reynolds, and Greg Davis, to name a few. Simply put, these are all essential recordings, they offer solid evidence of how the tradition continues from the ’60s to the present day in the same way that albums by Fahey, Kottke, Crandell, Lang, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, and countless others picked up on the lineages of the previous decades from folk, blues, prison songs and mountain and church music foundations, and brought it forth, shifted and changed and added and subtracted. This box is the latest entry in the long long logbook. Get it.

April 7th, 2008

Peter Walker’s First Album in 40 Years due May 6th

“Peter Walker was actually a bigger influence on my acoustic playing than John Fahey or Robbie Basho.”
– Ben Chasny, Six Organs of Admittance

Peter Walker came up in the Cambridge MA and Greenwich Village folk scenes of the Sixties. He recorded two albums for the Vanguard label in the late Sixties in a style best described as American folk-raga. He studied with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, and was Dr. Timothy Leary’s musical director, organizing music for the LSD advocate’s “celebrations.”
A Raga for Peter Walker was released by Tompkins Square in 2006, featuring four new tracks from Peter along with original, previously unreleased compositions by revered contemporary guitarists Steffen Basho-Junghans, James Blackshaw, Greg Davis, Shawn David McMillen, Thurston Moore, and Jack Rose.
In recent years, Walker has developed an intense interest in flamenco guitar and, through regular trips to Spain, has been accepted into flamenco’s exclusive musical elite. Peter states,
“The music on this CD was reviewed and acclaimed in Andalucia by some of the old guard who have encouraged its release. With its roots in ancient East Indian music, Flamenco has influenced much of the world’s music. These Spanish-inspired pieces reflect my passion for this musical rubric.”
Selection #: TSQ 1752

1. Cante Gitano (Gypsy Song)
2. Flor de Noche (Night Flower)
3. Caminar en la Tarde (Afternoon Walk)
4. Manitas Juntos (Hands Together)
5. Cueve de Pepe (Pepe’s Cave)
6. Sacromonte (Sacred Mountain)
7. Eco de mi Alma (Echo of My Soul)
8. Poema de Amar (Love Poem)
9. Jaleador (Spirit Caller)
10. Soleo (Alone)
11. Cante en Medio (Song in A Major)
12. Por Rosa (Song in E Major)
13. Grandita (Song From Granada)
14. Bailarcito (Little Dance)


Wed APRIL 09 GIRON, CAFE EL CERCLE (Blackmusic Fest.)
Thu 17 Freakzone Session 1.30pm
Fri 18 BBC World Service session
MAY 1 TORONTO, ON Over The Top Festival
MAY 3 Hamilton ON@ Casbah

February 20th, 2008

James Blackshaw Re-Issues Due March 25th

Coming off a round of year-end praise for James Blackshaw’s 2007 release, The Cloud of Unknowing, the Tompkins Square label will release four catalog titles by the acclaimed UK guitarist/composer on March 25th, 2008.

The reissues will comprise out-of-print works previously only available as tiny private runs of CDRs and LPs. They include Celeste, Sunshrine, Lost Prayers And Motionless Dances, and White Goddess.

The Cloud of Unknowing was selected as a Top 50 Album of the Year by Pitchfork and Wire Magazine, a Top 10 Album of the Year by WNYC, and was hailed in the New York Times on December 31st by Jon Pareles, who said, “Blackshaw plays 12-string acoustic guitar, picking endlessly circling, intertwining arpeggios: stately, tolling ones on the lower strings and faster ones, verging on tremolo, up above. Yet what usually emerges from the welter of notes is not bustle but tranquility. The music has the same contemplative scope that turns countless tiny daubs into a Monet water lily.”

James toured extensively with Jose Gonzalez in 2007. He will return to the U.S. in the Spring in support of his next studio album.

February 15th, 2008

Imaginational Anthem Volume Three : Third Installment Of Tompkins Square’s Acclaimed Acoustic Guitar Compilation Series

On April 8th 2008, Tompkins Square will release Imaginational Anthem Vol. 3, the third in a series of compilations devoted to acoustic guitar mavericks past and present. The label will also release all three volumes together as a box set on the same date.

As with Volumes 1 & 2, the new album features extraordinary young talents such as Cian Nugent (Ireland), Ben Reynolds (UK), and Shawn David McMillen (Austin, TX) alongside unsung heroes from decades past, such as banjo master George Stavis, who recorded an album for Vanguard in the 60’s; Richard Crandell, whose rare private press works will hopefully now be brought to light; and Mark Fosson, whose lost 1977 Takoma album was recently issued.

Released in October 2005, Imaginational Anthem was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and received 4 stars from Uncut (“Entrancing”), All Music Guide (“Masterful”) and Mojo (“Groundbreaking”). Rolling Stone’s David Fricke wrote, “The history and beauty here speaks for themselves, at the perfect volume.” Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times, “Old and new, the music meditates on blues, Appalachian music, raga and ragtime, and traditions are transfigured by a deep love for the sonority of the acoustic guitar.”

Released in June 2006, Imaginational Anthem Volume 2 opened with the gorgeous “River of Heaven” by Tompkins Square recording artist James Blackshaw, and featured unreleased recordings by legends such as Michael Chapman, Fred Gerlach, Billy Faier, Peter Lang, and Robbie Basho. The album was supported by a national Arthur Magazine-sponsored U.S. tour with Blackshaw, Sharron Kraus and Sean Smith. Pitchfork wrote, “(IA2) pairs some of the leading lights of the current avant-folk subculture with unearthed vintage folk rarities.”

Tompkins Square has been steadily mining the genre known as “American Primitive Guitar” with a string of acclaimed releases over the past two years, including reissues of seminal ’60’s albums by Robbie Basho and Harry Taussig; an album by three young guitarists from the Bay Area, Berkeley Guitar; The Cloud of Unknowing by 25-year old UK trailblazer James Blackshaw; Catfish, the debut album from Austin multi-instrumentalist Shawn David McMillen, and a tribute album for ’60’s-era Vanguard recording artist Peter Walker, entitled A Raga For Peter Walker.

Full Album Stream: http://www.imaginationalanthem.com/

Track listing for Imaginational Anthem Vol. 3 :
1. Richard Crandell – Zocalo
2. Ben Reynolds – Here Toucheth Blues
3. Greg Davis – Sleep Architecture
4. Nathan Salsburg – Bold Ruler’s Joys
5. Steffen Basho-Junghans – Blue Mountain Raga II
6. Cian Nugent – When the Snow Melts And Floats Downstream
7. Matt Baldwin – Sean Cycle
8. Mark Fosson – Another Fine Day
9. George Stavis – Goblins
10. R. Keenan Lawler – High Tower Bells For Loren Connors
11. Shawn David McMillen – Texarkana 1971

December 7th, 2007


Tompkins Square Label has received two Grammy nominations !

Charlie Louvin’s self-titled album is nominated in the Best Traditional Folk category. ‘People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1938′ is nominated in the Best Historical category.

August 6th, 2007

‘People Take Warning ! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1938′ out September 25th

“In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the Depression gripped the Nation. It was a time when songs were tools for living. A whole community would turn out to mourn the loss of a member and to sow their songs like seeds. This collection is a wild garden grown from those seeds.” – Tom Waits, from the Introduction

Songs of death, destruction and disaster, recorded by black and white performers from the dawn of American roots recording are here, assembled together for the first time. Whether they document world-shattering events like the sinking of the Titanic or memorialize long forgotten local murders or catastrophes, these 70 recordings – over 30 never before reissued – are audio messages in a bottle reflecting a lost world where age old ballads rubbed up against songs inspired by the day’s headlines.

Featuring beautifully remastered recordings by the some of the cornerstones of American vernacular recording such as Charlie Patton, Ernest Stoneman, Furry Lewis, Charlie Poole and Uncle Dave Macon, these songs tell of life and death struggles forever immortalized on these rare and compelling 78 rpms. Produced and annotated by Grammy winning team of Christopher King and Henry “Hank” Sapoznik with an introduction by Tom Waits, the accompanying 48- page three-CD anthology designed by Grammy award winning Susan Archie brims with many eye- popping historic images never before reproduced.

July 13th, 2007

88 Year Old Spencer Moore Releases Debut Album July 31

88 year old country singer Spencer Moore played a tent show with the Carter Family in the 30’s, and was recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax, who called him “as genuine as a rail fence.” His self-titled debut album is set for release on the Tompkins Square label July 31, 2007.
In our headlong rush into the age of iPods and laptops, it is reassuring to know that there are still people around like Spencer Moore. In a rustic mountain home perched on a green hillside of the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, Spencer Moore remains almost untouched by modernity. He provides his own entertainment on an acoustic guitar now a half century old. Knowing between 500-600 songs by heart, he can sing you most any old-time song known in this part of the Blue Ridge.
Born into a family of 11 children on February 7, 1919 in the northwestern corner of North Carolina, Spencer was introduced to old-time music early on. After the family moved across the mountains to Laurel Bloomery the Moore family was exposed to more old-time music via their neighbor, the blind fiddler and singer, G.B. Grayson. Spencer’s father acquired a wind-up phonograph and records. Hearing records by the likes of Charlie Poole, Jimmie Rodgers , Riley Puckett and their neighbor, G.B. Grayson, stoked the fires of Spencer’s love of old-time music that much more. A few dollars bought him a guitar from Sears and Roebuck via the mail. In 1933, at age 14, Spencer attended the famous Whitetop Mountain Folk Festival. There he heard Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt sing “Three Little Babes,” an old British ballad also known as “The Wife of Usher’s Well.”
By the late 1930’s, Spencer and his brother Joe were performing publicly themselves as the Moore Brothers in the Delmore Brothers style. It was during this period that the Moores performed in a tent-show with the Carter Family.
In 1959, famed folklorist Alan Lomax along with Shirley Collins came into the hills of southwest Virginia to collect Blue Ridge mountain music. Lomax recorded a number of pieces by Spencer including Jimmy Sutton and The Girl I Left Behind. The performances were released on Atlantic and Prestige Records.
Spencer Moore is a living link to our musical past. He knew and played with the Carter Family, G. B. Grayson and Henry Whitter. Such links are becoming increasing rare. He is a treasure we should cherish.

June 19th, 2007

James Blackshaw’s “The Cloud of Unknowing” Thom Jurek Review

Still in his middle twenties at the time of this recording, British acoustic 12-string guitarist James Blackshaw has distinguished himself as an innovative and original voice in a very limited medium. Along with Glenn Jones, Jack Rose, and Sir Richard Bishop, Blackshaw is forging a new acoustic trail for the guitar. Comparisons between all of these guitarists are futile, as are attempts to report on their “influences.” Blackshaw in particular stands out for his use solely of a 12-string; his long elegant lines and incredibly detailed methods of fingerpicking; his meld of Eastern modes alongside pastoral Western harmonics; his historical sense of Celtic folk music; and his elegant, full bodied, but nearly fluid approach to both composition and improvisation — which are blended seamlessly in his pieces. The Cloud of Unknowing is his first recording readily available in the United States. Released by the venerable yet tiny Tompkins Square imprint (which is also working on reissuing his back catalog), this is a side of Blackshaw displayed only partially on his Celeste, Sunshrine, and O True Believers recordings. Using various tunings, Blackshaw seemingly enters the opening title track from the middle, spinning an airy narrative from a complex yet utterly accessible extrapolation of theme and variation. There are drones that actually provide a rhythmic counterpoint to his enveloping mist of ringing strings and climbing and falling scalar work. On “Running to the Ghost,” Blackshaw also plays glockenspiel, and is accompanied by violinist Fran Bury (who also guests on the set’s final cut, “Stained Glass Windows”). The opening rhythmic pattern established by his fingerpicking — especially on the low strings — is glissando-like in structure, and is given weight by the accompanying instruments. His bass strings move off indirectly from the shimmering harmonic interplay and become a series of counterpoint harmonies, offering melodic possibilities in the middle that are hinted at rather than openly stated.

The brief “Clouds Collapse” is a soundscape track that acts as the album’s hinge and breaks the listener’s concentration momentarily before his minor-key “The Mirror Speaks” reenters with a much more pronounced theme and architecture, where scales are improvised on a nearly country & western theme (with a Middle Eastern melody playing against and into the theme), but stretched to the breaking point. Think of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” alongside an oud melody played by Hamza el Din. The album’s 15-plus-minute closer, “Stained Glass Windows,” opens so blissfully and sparely that it feels like it doesn’t fit the disc. Blackshaw’s meandering scalar work appears almost haphazardly inside a very loose and deceptively simple and seemingly random thematic structure. It picks up speed quickly, however, and gently and purposely becomes a full-blown 12-string bliss-out accented by a double rhythmic counterpoint played against a pair of melodies. One feels literally as if in the presence of the Divine. This feeling is simply ratcheted up for seven minutes or so before Bury’s violin, accented and textured by electronics, enters in full dissonant mode, creating a sense of the Fall. It’s chaotic, harsh, and utterly ruinous in a sense, until the realization that it is in this space of freedom and dislocation that you struggle to find your ground, and its intention is to show the flip side of the lyric order of Western music (think Ornette Coleman playing violin with sound effects blurring nearly every line except his pitch frequencies), which, inexplicably, takes the track abruptly out into the void, where the listener is left wondering breathlessly about what just transpired. The Cloud of Unknowing is Blackshaw’s most sophisticated and utterly engaging album yet, and offers American audiences a startling first listen to a musical visionary. Highly recommended.