September 8th, 2009

Frank Farifield’s Debut Album on CD/LP/DL 9.29.09

“A young Californian who sings and plays as someone who’s crawled out of the Virginia mountains carrying familiar songs that in his hands sound forgotten: broken lines, a dissonant drone, the fiddle or the banjo all percussion, every rising moment louder than the one before it.”
— Greil Marcus

California-based fiddle, guitar, and banjo player, and ardent 78 collector Frank Fairfield has made his living as a musician, often found playing on the streets of Los Angeles. Handpicked by Fleet Foxes to open their U.S. tour last year, Frank released a 7″ on Tompkins Square and recorded his self-titled debut album. His 7″ won over tough critics and purists like Grammy winning producer Chris King (Charley Patton, People Take Warning box set), Phil Alexander (Mojo) and Greil Marcus, to name a few.

From Liner Notes by John Tottenham:

“Few questions can be satisfactorily answered about Frank Fairfield, mostly because he keeps to himself. He seems to be at once very open to share his insights, but yet in no way willing to give away his secrets. He was born in the San Joaquin Valley of California. He speaks of his grandfather leaving Texas to pick crops around the country, a constant traveler, a musician, who eventually “got religion” and settled in Kettleman City, Kings County as a pastor. Dust storms, tumbleweeds, cotton crops. . . this imagery has been richly cultivated in Fairfield’s young mind. Somewhere along the road Frank Fairfield finds himself and begins to play his grandfather’s old fiddle, picks up the banjo and gitbox, and starts playing the tunes of old with great conviction, learning many songs from the collection of rural gramophone records he has hungrily hunted down.”

August 21st, 2009

Red Fox Chasers review by Amanda Petrusich

Excepting those preternaturally drawn to trawling auctions and flea markets for old crates of 78s, most traditional country fans haven’t heard much of the Red Fox Chasers, a four-man string band from the northwestern corner of North Carolina, deep in the Appalachian mountains. I’m Going Down to North Carolina is the first complete anthology of the band’s work, which consists of less than 40 sides and a handful of bootlegging skits, recorded between 1928 and 1931. It’s a raucous, revelatory collection of old-time mountain music. The four neighbors and pals – vocalist and harmonica player Bob Cranford, vocalist and banjo-strummer Paul Miles, guitarist A.P. Thompson, and fiddler Guy Brooks – sing, strum and wail with high, Appalachian aplomb.

The band’s biography is riddled with folksy details — Miles’ first banjo was made from a meal sifter! Brooks bought his fiddle with money he saved up from selling hand-collected chestnuts for a dollar a bushel! They all learned to sing at a two-week shape-note singing tutorial led by an itinerant teacher! — but the music transcends any aw-shucks trappings. A mix of minstrel tunes, Tin Pan Alley cuts, disaster songs, ballads and tracks made more famous by Charlie Poole (“May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?”), the Carter Family (“Little Sweetheart, Pal of Mine”), and Uncle Dave Macon (“Sweet Bye and Bye”), I’m Going Down to North Carolina is a comprehensive introduction to string band music, and a testament to the Chasers’ dexterity and glee. Like any good mountain band, there’s a healthy tension between the sacred and the profane, and the band’s liquor-soaked “Virginia Bootleggers” – sung to the tune of “The River of Jordan,” an old gospel song – even got poor Guy Brooks kicked out of his church. Which is possibly the highest endorsement of all.

August 17th, 2009

Red Fox Chasers out now ! Record Release Events in NYC

June 1st, 2009

Ben Reynolds – How Day Earnt Its Night

Tompkins Square has amassed a formidable catalog of acclaimed acoustic guitar recordings, from reissues of seminal works by Robbie Basho, Richard Crandell and Harry Taussig to contemporary masters James Blackshaw, Peter Walker and Brad Barr. The label’s ‘Imaginational Anthem Vols.1-3′ guitar anthology received 4 1/2 stars in All Music Guide, with AMG’s Thom Jurek stating, “These are all essential recordings.”

Next up is Ben Reynolds, an English solo steel string guitarist and songwriter. In his solo instrumental works, he draws upon the vast well of musical inspiration native to the British Isles as well as that found across the Atlantic and beyond.

Outside of Ben’s solo work, he is a member of Glasgow-based songsters Trembling Bells, whose debut album ‘Carbeth’ on London label Honest Jon’s has received ecstatic praise from the likes of Joe Boyd and Will Oldham.

‘How Day Earnt Its Night’ consolidates his interest in British and American folk guitar traditions in concise and intensely melodic pieces as well as longer, expressionist improvisations. The intricacies of British guitar luminaries such as Bert Jansch and Davy Graham are found alongside the stark grandeur of John Fahey’s ‘American primitive guitar’ stylings.

April 20th, 2009

A Broken Consort – “Box Of Birch”

PRAISE:

“Given electronic media’s inability to slake modern consumer thirst, it’s no surprise that many are returning to heavy, tactile forms of recorded music. Alongside the return of vinyl is the growth in private press companies releasing limited-runs. Top of the game is Lancashire’s Richard Skelton, whose Sustain-Release label has produced magic boxes of spindles, leaves, poems, and densely layered post-classical recordings with cello, piano and accordion, referencing everyone from Arvo Part to Blind Willie Johnson.” – MOJO

“haunting and sublime”
- The Independent (UK)

“heart-wrenching”
- Wire

“Once you add the backstory and the passing thought of A Box Of Birch as a coffin, the chills double”
- Stereogum

“A fluid composition of strings, chimes and some cloudy atmospherics”
- Pitchfork

Richard Skelton is an artist from Lancashire in the UK. He started his Sustain-Release Private Press in 2005 as a commemorative tribute to his late wife Louise, with the intention of publishing her artwork alongside his own musical offerings. Since its inception he has released a slew of raw, beautiful recordings presented in lovingly-assembled, individualised editions.

Operating under a variety of guises, including Heidika, Carousell, Harlassen and Clouwbeck, Skelton creates powerful, instrumental music out of densely-layered acoustic guitar, bowed strings, piano, mandolin and accordion, often laced with delicate, shimmering percussion. The result is something utterly unique – a music which is both life-affirming and yet etched with memory and loss, evoking equal parts Arvo Part and Ry Cooder, Nick Drake and Henryk Gorecki.

It is with A Broken Consort, perhaps, that Skelton most-assuredly draws these elements together, creating an ever-changing drift of rich textures and interleaved melody that effortlessly evokes the landscapes which inspired it. Box Of Birch, his second album in this guise, was originally published in a boxed edition that contained, among other things, birch twigs collected from the West Pennine Moors. For Skelton these things act as a synecdoche for the landscape itself, a physical connection to the places in which much of his music is recorded. In this new edition for Tompkins Square, Skelton has created an exclusive series of artworks which draw on the hidden histories of the English landscape, and their narratives of displacement and loss. The result is something which perfectly complements the music whilst adding another dimension, providing a fuller picture of the artist’s vision.

Available on CD, DL, and heavy vinyl LP

March 18th, 2009

Peter Walker Releases ‘Long Lost Tapes 1970′


Guitarist 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”.

Peter Walker’s 1967 debut album, Rainy Day Raga, features one of the first studio appearances by jazz flautist Jeremy Steig, as well as guitarist Bruce Langhorne, who recorded with Bob Dylan and many others. The album is a gentle and beautiful fusion of Eastern and Western musical traditions, and one of the earliest examples of a style explored by Sandy Bull several years earlier. A second album, Second Poem to Karmela or, Gypsies Are Important (1969) found Walker going even deeper into Indian instrumentation, playing sarod and sitar. During this time, Peter played or was associated with such musicians as Lowell George, Fred Neil, Karen Dalton, Tim Hardin, and Joan Baez, among many others.

A Raga for Peter Walker was released on Tompkins Square 37 years later, 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. More a tip of the hat than a “tribute” album, these players all share an appreciation for a gifted musician whose small yet amazing body of work still resonates. Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) also cites him as a major inspiration, stating, “Peter was actually a bigger influence on my acoustic playing than John Fahey or Robbie Basho.”

Walker settled in upstate New York in the early Seventies. In more recent years, he has developed an intense interest in flamenco guitar and, through regular trips to Spain, has been accepted into the flamenco’s exclusive musical elite. The fruits of these efforts are on full display on his first album since 1969, Echo of My Soul, released in 2008 on Tompkins Square.

Long Lost Tapes 1970 is a revelation. Featuring Peter on electric and acoustic guitar in a band setting with five other musicians, the session took place in Levon Helm’s Woodstock home while Helm was out of town. The tapes languished until now. Here is Peter’s take on the recording:

“One cold late fall weekend I put a session together. I found housing for the out of town musicians and invited my friend Maruga Booker who came all the way from Detroit, Badal Roy and I had played together and he was available so he came up from New Jersey, the rest of the guys were already in Woodstock that week. It all come together at Levon Helm’s house while Levon was away, Paul Butterfield heard about it and came by but didn’t play, it wasn’t blues so it wasn’t his thing. The police chief heard about it, showed up drunk, sneered his contempt for the “Hippies”, and went away. I traded with Eddy Offord for the equipment rental and engineering, so in so many ways it was a classic “Woodstock Production”. It was my last major effort before years of obscurity and remained in storage all these years. Josh Rosenthal (Tompkins Square) encouraged me to dig it out and release it.”

Peter will tour Europe and the United States in 2009 to celebrate the release of ‘Long Lost Tapes 1970.

February 2nd, 2009

Ran Blake – Driftwoods

Ran Blake is an iconoclast. Since his 1961 collaboration with Jeanne Lee on RCA, Ran Blake has released 35 albums on such labels as ESP, Soul Note, Arista and hatOLOGY. His 2006 album on the Tompkins Square label, ‘All That Is Tied’, received 4 stars in Downbeat and earned top honors in the 2007 Penguin Guide to Jazz. Penguin’s editor Brian Morton and Wire Magazine hailed the record as a “masterpiece.”

For his new solo piano outing, ‘Driftwoods’, Ran salutes his favorite singers, interpreting songs popularized by Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole and more.

To celebrate the release, Ran will play a rare live solo piano performance at 9PM on WGBH on March 18th, airing locally on 89.7FM Boston and streaming globally via wgbh.org/jazz, click on “Listen Live.”

New York Times 2.1.09:
The pianist Ran Blake seems to hear other people’s music through a kind of creative seance; in the process it becomes transformed. On “Driftwoods” (Tompkins Square), a new solo piano record, he takes a tightly written old pop song – like “Dancing in the Dark,” “Unforgettable” or “Lost Highway” – and reveals behind it a slow-moving fantasia, full of shuddering harmony played with the sustain pedal down. He puts stops and elongations into each tune, making it move like a sleepwalker until a hard blues phrase wakes it up. He’s been doing this for nearly 50 years, forming his own canon of composers and performers from across the best of midcentury jazz, gospel, soul and classical music, and he’s still in great form.

December 4th, 2008

Two More Grammy Noms for Tompkins Square

Tompkins Square label has received two Grammy nominations:
Charlie Louvin ‘Steps To Heaven’ – Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album
Polk Miller & His Old South Quartette – Best Historical Album

November 26th, 2008

Charlie Louvin Explores Visions of Heaven & Hell on Two New Albums

Country Music Hall of Famer and half of the legendary
country duo The Louvin Brothers, Charlie Louvin releases two new
thematic albums on New York City’s Tompkins Square label.

Steps to Heaven, released September 16th, 2008, features ten traditional
sacred songs, a collection The New York Times’ Amanda Petrusich
calls “raw and stunning.” The release will be followed by Charlie Louvin
Sings Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, out December 9, 2008. Both
albums were produced, recorded and mixed by Mark Nevers
(Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Andrew Bird, Bobby Bare Sr.) Louvin’s
2007 self-titled album was nominated for a Grammy, Best Traditional
Folk Album.

Although some might be surprised at a thematic Charlie Louvin album dealing with death and destruction, one needn’t look any further than the very first Louvin Brothers album to find a connection. Tragic Songs of Life, released in 1956, is full of emotional songs detailing heartbreak, betrayal, violence and loss. Inspired by Tompkins Square’s recent Grammy-nominated 3CD box set People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938, Charlie reached back for a couple of songs from that first Louvins album, and pulled five songs from the box set to create a moving and sometimes raucous new take on traditional songs of tragedy.

Nashville Record Release Events :
Dec 9th Release date: Grimey’s Record Store signing 6PM (w/ Those Darlins)
Dec 13th Country Music Hall of Fame signing 4-5:30PM
Dec 13th Midnight Jamboree/Ernest Tubb signing 12AM
Dec 15th WSM live on air 7AM
Dec 18th Record Release show (presented by WSM) – 3rd & Lindsley 9:30PM

November 21st, 2008

“The Best Record Of The Year Is 100 Years Old”

From Roothogordie.wordpress.com :

At the risk of seeming aggressively anachronistic, or perhaps atavistic, I’d like to suggest that you call off your slobbering dogs of insatiable aesthetic appetite and spend the rest of the year relishing an album by Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette. Recently released on the Tompkins Square label, the CD is the complete recordings made by Miller and his group, comprising their 1909 Edison cylinders and the Quartette’s reappearance on 78 in 1928, fifteen years after Miller’s death.

An introduction: Polk Miller was decidedly both anachronistic and atavistic. He was the son of a Virginia plantation owner who grew up serenaded by the music of his family’s slaves – spirituals, work songs, dance tunes – and who, later as a pharmacist and a veteran soldier of the Confederacy, made his name as the impresario behind “Old Times in the South.” This traveling show (though Miller hated the term “show”) consisted of a lecture, recitations in Southern black dialect, and a performance by Miller (vocal and banjo) with a rotating cast of black male singers of religious material, sentimental Dixie chestnuts, and a serving of minstrel songs. The anachronism is that Miller never trafficked in blackface, he dressed “his men” in suits, and as the show increased in popularity, touring elite clubs in New York, Boston, and Cleveland, it earned derision and threats of violence due to the semblance of “brotherhood”, that it presented on stage. While the contemporary music publishers were pumping out such popular white-composed “coon songs” as “If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon”, and “All Coons Look Alike to Me,” “Old Times in the South” was presenting “authentic”, Southern black song performed by a racially mixed ensemble.

Granted, this ensemble – of course barring Miller and his friend Colonel Tom Booker, who occasionally joined the troupe on banjo – was often billed as a representation of, as one program had it, “the real Southern Darkey.” And there’s the issue of Miller’s discomfiting, atavistic motive behind the show: “I do try to give the older people something that would take them back to their childhood, and to give to the younger generation an insight to the happy past under the old regime in Dixie.” Miller made it clear to reporters that the members of the Quartette were not his collaborative equals but, like the “men who are in my employ at my home,” his “servants.” “Old Times in the South” was a romantic trip down Miller’s memory lane, when slaves loved their masters, the South was unspoiled by Yankee imposition, and the weeping willow was in bloom.

But it’s also an example – are there many others? – of a willful nostalgia for a dark and evil chapter of history expressing itself artistically in a fashion too progressive for its times. Setting aside the Quartette’s sociological dimensions, their music is thrilling; admittedly enriched by its historical peculiarity, but not solely because of it. It’s awfully jarring to hear the anthem of the CSA, “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” sung by African American voices (especially since Miller’s voice is the lead, engendering an uncomfortable if not accurate feeling that “his men” have been compelled under no uncertain terms to sing lustily along), but if you allow yourself to ignore your vantage point atop this side of history and just listen, it’s gorgeous and stirring. The sacred songs are a fascinating reminder of how firm a foundation underlies black religious music in America. Already decades old when they were recorded in 1909, songs like “What A Time” and “That Old-Time Religion,” recorded hundreds of times since, display their timelessness in the Quartette’s able renditions. The same goes for the more egregious of the minstrel material. Sure, the “Watermelon Party” immediately conjures up all manner of awfulness, but it’s also impossibly catchy. Mark Twain certainly thought so, declaring that “perhaps [America] can furnish something more enjoyable, but I must doubt it until I forget that musical earthquake, ‘The Watermelon Party.’ “

Twain gets cover billing on the Tompkins Square release: “I think that Polk Miller, and his wonderful four, is about the only thing the country can furnish that is originally and utterly American.” Apart from the hilarity and wonderfulness of a CD bearing a Mark Twain “endorsement,” he, as he was in so many arenas, was right. No matter how backwards-looking Miller might have been, he made forward-thinking music with his Quartette. Like other enormously influential American music that followed it – jazz, rhythm & blues, hip hop – theirs is a synthesis of disparate styles, locales, and identifications; the very sound of, if not true “brotherhood,” then at least a nascent spirit of tolerance, collaboration, and mutual respect. After all, despite all his puerile longings and chauvinist business dealings, Miller undeniably loved black music, and he arguably made a significant contribution to its dissemination and appreciation. Ignore his goof-ball lead vocal on that august spiritual number, “Rise and Shine.” Which song is instantly recognizable to 21st century American schoolchildren? It, or “All Coons Look Alike to Me”?

In 1928, when the Quartette mysteriously reunited in New York City – or reformed; no one knows for sure, as the names of the original members whose voices appear on the cylinders were never documented – their seven new sides slipped into a massive stream of black music being commercially produced and sold in department stores and catalogs across the country. Enough whites in positions of corporate influence saw a value (and of course in America economic value is always the penultimate value) in African American gospel, blues, jazz, and other dance music to invest in it; and enough Americans, both black and white, considered it worthy of consuming. While Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette might jar our ears today – lyrically, sociologically, sonically (although laurels for everyone aurally involved in this reissue for succeeding in reducing the disc and cylinder noise to listenable, even enjoyable, levels) – they deserve to be recognized as seminal figures in the history of American music. They also deserve to be listened to, not just for their historical value, but, as Twain had it, for being an utterly wonderful band.