Various - Down and Out
NTS' label arm reaches out into the desolate void of US and UK private press folk & country to assemble this 14 song, double LP collection of markedly obscure lonesome ramblings and laments. The private press world is a strange space, simultaneously sort of both hopeful and disarmingly depressive. All these hopes and dreams, and self-determining energy to bring them into existence, and yet no-one really present to hear them. Fate to the gods or the wind or just plain circumstance, this is music made by outsiders with little way in, and if it were not for a particular type of strident collector, outside is pretty much where most of them would remain. Sometimes the desire for the unknown can clog up our ears, but it's fair to say that the artists contained here are not just an obscurist's delight - these are songs well worthy of wider audiences, some so remarkable it's a surprise they've been left alone so long. All drawn from between 1968-1980, this is music of the post-folk, acid-psych era, and also the shifting sands of late-period capitalism, when suddenly the future didn't feel as good as it used to. Down and Out proves an instructive title - everyone's sad, and no-one gets paid, everyone fights and all there is to do is quit. I understand some of these artists either found other notable career paths or led a lifetime in music, though the songs and sentiments speak mostly of uncertainty, doubt or longing. It's tough to make it past the opening two tracks - on first listen, Brenda Wooton's vocal performance on Stars had me scraping my jaw up off the floor, and Bob Hughes might be the most heartbroken soul i've heard from in sometime. You could imagine both shoehorning their way onto Sky Girl, that other high watermark private press compilation. Indeed, these songs sound born of that same feeling that charged Nora Guthrie or Scott Seskind, an endorsement if you ever needed one. If you can make it past that opening one-two, the moments keep coming, Richard Forestier's Soupirs a surprisingly avant reframing of folk-simplicity, and Bill Clint's 11 minute Sometimes Angels Don't Need Friends a John Denver meets Tim Buckley slide into epiphanic misery (with possibly real tears as its climax). Grand work from NTS. No surprise there, really.
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