There’s a muggy breeze in Brooklyn. We’re waiting for rain. On the turntable are two LPs taking me to Summer’s end. Both are remarkable documents of early 70’s British Folk Rock. Each issued on vinyl for the first time since their original pressings.
The rising tide of vinyl reissues in recent years can bring a mix of reactions. A record is not necessarily a well made record. Today’s market flogs everything from poorly mastered CD rips with flimsy card stock and bad printing, to beautiful, lovingly assembled editions pulled from the original master tapes. Presuming quality, my navigation of this market is simple. If a reissue is less than half of the price of the original I’ll buy it. Otherwise always the original. My willingness to spend larger sums is dictated by the likelihood of a reissue down the road.
I’m often surprised by what gets repressed. Things I never thought would. Things I thought never should. The albums alternating on my turntable are welcome additions. Both entered my awareness a decade ago with CD issues, were love affairs and drifted from my ears under piles of unpacked boxes and my disillusionment with their format. I’ve hunted for the originals, but unless extremely lucky, if you can find them at all, each pushes the $500 mark. Out of my reach. Imagine my joy to find them waiting for me in the bin.
1. Ernie Graham – Ernie Graham (1971/2014)
Ernie Graham’s single solo LP, originally issued on Liberty in 1971, is a high point in an era of remarkable cultural output. Like so many “lost” records from this period, I’m left scratching my head. How did this flop?!? How was Graham was lost in the shadows?
The album debuted with a limited UK release in the era of the carefully crafted concept album. Of conceptual and thematic consistency and arc. It is also a moment of darkening temperaments in musical taste. Audiences drifting from the idealism of the 60’s into the great “let down” of the 1970’s. The year of Electric Warrior, Master of Reality, Sticky Fingers, L.A. Woman, Who’s Next, and Led Zeppelin IV. Against this backdrop we can see why Graham has been lost to his rightful audience. The record shares none of these elements.
With hindsight, we suffer temporal compression. It is easy to forget how quickly popular music progressed between 1965 and 1975. A period of revolution, broken paradigms and where repetition could spell death. A year or two matters little now. During those years it could sound like a gaping chasm to the past. From a critical point of view, contemporary with the album, I can see its detractions. Its voices are slightly inconsistent. Each song stands independent from the other. Structurally more similar to albums of the early 60’s, when the single was king. It is as ahead of its time as it is behind. A premature return to the song. A link between folk rock of a few years prior, and the form’s resurgence toward the middle 70’s.
As a member of a generation that has culled the past for lost gems, I think it’s important to acknowledge variance between how something was heard at its inception, and how we hear it now. Time colors what we hear. We live in an era of hybrids and appropriation. A Post-Modern conceit where originality is the combination and interpretation of signifiers rather than their inception. We expect bands to sound like other bands. Music like other music. We are free of the expectations of an era. We are without time. We discern subtleties and originality between the reference. These are the ears that hear Graham’s LP. I expect contemporary listeners would have heard just another somebody riffing off of Dylan, Fairport and The Band. I can understand the dismissal. Those references are undeniably present. I hear a great deal more. I hear a voice I haven’t heard anywhere else. I hear a music moving forward rather than resting in the past and using everything it has (including other voices) to get there. As much I hear contemporary references, Dylan’s New Morning etc. I hear J.J. Cale and Jim O’rourke era Wilco. This is a beautiful album. A true lost gem that gives more with every listen. The reissue has been well executed by Four Men With Beards. Despite having heard a fair amount of grumbling over the years about the label, particularly regarding digital source material and poor mastering, I can honestly say this pressing sounds great. I have nothing to compare it to given the cost of the original, but I have trouble imagining it sounding better. I can’t recommend this one enough.
2. Heron – Heron (1970/2013)
Heron’s debut album needs considerably less architecture to describe. Despite suffering obscurity since its initial release, it feels of its moment. Conceptually in line (minus the Americana) with The Grateful Dead’s return to acoustic instruments the same year with American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. Heron also needs slightly less introduction due to the success of the CD reissue I mentioned earlier. Released originally in 1970 on Dawn Records (also home to Comus, Mike Cooper and Trader Horne during this period) this is a beautiful stand out album. Recorded outside in a field, complete with chirping birds and buzzing insects. This is the more delicate side of Folk Rock. Some of the most beautiful harmonizing vocals I can call to mind. Once again, an album whose larger obscurity and loss on its own generation confounds me. It might be a little syrupy for some, but I can’t get enough it. I’m incredibly grateful that it’s been reissued. It has been absolutely beautifully assembled in an edition of 500 by the Spanish label Mapache Records (they’re doing great things..check them out) Pressed from the original masters with an immaculately reproduced gatefold sleeve and original insert. They’ve also added an interview with the band and a bonus 7″ reissue of the band’s equally hard to find first single from the same year. This is definitely the higher end of the reissue market, but you can see exactly where your money is going. Clearly done with love and worth every penny. Unfortunately it hasn’t gotten great distribution in the States, thus coming to me so late in the game. I wish it had coasted with me through the summer rather than greeted me at its end. Grab a copy if you can find it.