Sunday, February 11, 2007

Good Will Hunting

The best vinyl dollar bin trawling on the Upper West Side is (in descending order) Gryphon Books at 81st and Broadway, the church basement thrift store at 96th and Amsterdam and the Salvation Army store on 96th Street west of Broadway, with the Goodwill on 79th street a distant fourth (or fifth if you count the amount of good stuff I've gotten from sidewalk vendors), but the headline was hard to resist.

Recent acquisitions in this realm include Carolyn Hester's self-titled 2nd LP from 1960 on Tradition Records. She has the vibrato-laden soprano which, particularly through Joan Baez, came to exemplify the earnestly ethnomusicological approach to folksong "collecting" that characterized the folk revival until Bob Dylan came along and injected a dose of scruffiness. Were you to write a formula for the model early 60s folksong LP (one cover of "House of The Rising Sun", check, one song in Spanish, check, one spiritual with liner notes about the performer's great respect for the American Negro, check), you would probably come out with this record. On the other hand, you can never have too many versions of "She Moved Through The Fair" and Hester chooses to go with the version of the last verse in which the young bride is dead and appearing in ghostly form.
The most iconic photo of Hester from the period is this one with a pre-fame Bob Dylan at her side and ubiquitous 60s folk session bass player Bill Lee (Spike's dad) to the right.

Also worth its dollar is Exuma's fifth record, Reincarnation, from 1972, on Kama Sutra/Buddha. Exuma (birth name McFarlane Anthony McKay, of Bahamian origin) was one of not too many black performers in the mid-60s Greenwich Village folk scene and sounded enough like Richie Havens that it would be hard to skip the comparison altogether. Working from a high sandpapery tenor and rapidly strummed acoustic guitar, his arrangements on this record include lots of percussion, and keyboards as needed. Starting with a bit of Belafonte-ish hokum called "Brown Girl" (which reminds you of the Buddha label's bubblegum origins), he takes an unexpected turn into a fairly faithful version of Paul McCartney's "Monkberry Moon Delight" distinguished from the original (which had only come out a year earlier) by escalating the comically aggressive surrealism of McCartney's vocal performance to a more genuinely crazed level. What could be fairly standard early 70s folk rock gets a lift from Exuma's broad range of vocal styles and the somewhat dark, mystical edge to a lot of his lyrics, with frequent references to Obeah, the Bahamian flavor of the syncretistic Afro-Caribbean religion called Santeria or Voodoo elsewhere.
Exuma's whole story is readily available at wikipedia and elsewhere - the record collector in me is, of course, intrigued by the stories of lost early 80s albums in micro-editions on barely extant labels that were anthologized in 1986 by ROIR records on Rude Boy, his final release.

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