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, 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 :

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.

October 30th, 2008

Max Ochs – “Hooray For Another Day”

Max Ochs.

Cousin of Phil Ochs.


Schoolmate of John Fahey and Robbie Basho.

Friend of Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James.

Social Activist.

Takoma and Fonotone Recording Artist.

Composer of the tune “Imaginational Anthem”.

Hooray For Another Day. Out November 18th.

Maryland’s Max Ochs recorded two influential guitar pieces on a long out-of-print Takoma LP, ‘Contemporary Guitar Spring ‘67′, alongside tracks by John Fahey, Bukka White, Robbie Basho and Harry Taussig. ‘Hooray For Another Day’ contains exciting new instrumental works from this American Primitive master, including a new take on Fahey’s arrangement of “In Christ There Is No East or West”. The disc also contains several spoken word poems, one entitled “Phil”, for Max’s cousin, the late folk legend Phil Ochs. Max’s tune “Imaginational Anthem” inspired the guitar compilation series of the same name on Tompkins Square. This album is a stirring personal statement from an overlooked yet vital American artist.

Enter To Win a signed copy of Max Ochs’ recording debut – an insanely rare 1967 Takoma label compilation LP also featuring John Fahey, Harry Taussig, Robbie Basho and Bukka White. Answers to the following questions can be found in the liner notes of Max’s new album, ‘Hooray For Another Day’. Send them in to by Dec 31, 2008.

1) What rock group was Max a member of in the 60’s ?
2) Raga Puti was a favorite peace song of whom ?
3) Besides Takoma, what storied label did Max also record for in the 60’s ?
4) Who co-wrote “Stranger” ?

September 22nd, 2008

Nick Tosches on ‘People Take Warning!’

I’ve been sitting here watching the remains of this short-lived country go down the drain, and there is no better soundtrack to this than People Take Warning, a grand and beautiful set – in every sense, from the remastered recordings to the notes to the extraordinary design work – that gives perspective both to these days and those of the past. This is white-hot history, a danse macabre, and, above all, a wealth of great old and timeless music.
– Nick Tosches

September 22nd, 2008

Frank Fairfield Tours with Fleet Floxes

Tompkins Square label has signed Los Angeles-based musician Frank Fairfield. He will be main support for Fleet Foxes on their US tour this fall.

The label has released a 3-song digital single, and a 7″ single featuring Fairfield”s take on traditional tunes “I’ve Always Been A Rambler” b/w “Darling Corey.” An album will follow in early 2009.

Links and more info:

September 5th, 2008

Brad Barr – The Fall Apartment : Instrumental Guitar

Tompkins Square label will release guitarist Brad Barr’s solo debut, The Fall Apartment: Instrumental Guitar, on September 16th, 2008.

Brad will be opening for Sonya Kitchell this fall.

As a member of Northeast-based band The Slip, Brad’s guitar prowess has always been notable, but his true gifts and distinct musical voice are on full display throughout this solo guitar album. A heady set of original compositions is complimented by such diverse covers as “Maria La O” by legendary Cuban musician Ernesto Lecuona, Kurt Cobain’s “Heart Shaped Box,” and Le Trio Ferret’s “Gin Gin.” The introspective tone of the album recalls such overlooked loner guitar gems as Lenny Breau’s Cabin Fever or Richard Crandell’s The Flower of Our Youth, whilst staking out a thoroughly modern approach to solo guitar here in the late ’00’s.

September 2nd, 2008


Tompkins Square’s Acclaimed ‘Imaginational Anthem’ Acoustic Guitar Box Set Hits The Road

“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

NYC’s Tompkins Square label presents three artists from its recent ‘Imaginational Anthem’ compilation series in concert: Cian Nugent (Ireland), Ben Reynolds (Scotland) and George Stavis. It is the first US tour for Nugent and Reynolds.

The acclaimed three-volume series, now available as a limited edition 3-CD box set, includes rare and unreleased acoustic guitar tracks by John Fahey, Sandy Bull, Robbie Basho, Mark Fosson, Michael Chapman, Harris Newman, Brad Barr, Jack Rose, Kaki King and many others.

Past ‘Imaginational Anthem’ release event and tour alumni include James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, Max Ochs, Christina Carter, Shawn David McMillen, Sharron Kraus, Sean Smith and others.

Oct 3 Williamsburg, Brooklyn Monkeytown 2 sets 7:30 & 10PM
Oct 4 NYC Cake Shop
Oct 5 Philadelphia Brickbat Books
Oct 6 Baltimore Golden West
Oct 7 DC Velvet Lounge
Oct 8 Somerville MA The Nave
Oct 9 Montague MA Bookmill
Oct 10 Burlington VT Firehouse Gallery
Oct 11 Portland ME Time of Rivers Festival


Cian Nugent: 19 years old, from Ireland. His debut EP is a CDR (ltd. ed. of 100) with six tracks recorded on a 70’s reel-to-reel machine, and the crude nature of it harks back to those early recordings of Davey Graham at Hull University. It even includes a re-working of Buell Kazee’s “Wagoner’s Lad”, famously covered by Bert Jansch. His debut for Tompkins Square is set for the first half of ‘09.

Ben Reynolds: From Scotland. “Here Toucheth Blues”, a highlight of ‘Imaginational Anthem vol 3′, is lilting and elegiac, a bit surprising as his fans are likely more familiar with his angular, raga-charged works. Ben is building a fantastic catalogue of solo recordings (and a multitude of side projects and collaborations), most recently ‘Two Wings’ on the Strange Attractors label. His Tompkins Square debut surfaces in early ‘09.

George Stavis: A shadowy figure from decades past, seemingly undiminished by time and ripe for re-discovery, is the mysterious banjo picker, George Stavis. He recorded one album for Vanguard in 1969, Labyrinths, subtitled Occult Improvisational Compositions for 5-string banjo and percussion. This LP is the oddest and best banjo album of the period, only rivaled perhaps by fellow 5-stringer Billy Faier’s 1973 Takoma album – good luck finding an LP copy of either, however Labyrinths is available on CD. Stavis is pictured on the cover wearing a medieval robe and holding a glowing crystal ball. The record is a wonderful devil’s brew of ethnic, old-timey and psychedelics. He returns to the stage for the first time in decades.