Tracing the lineage and citing the fore-bearers of the New Weird America, one can’t help but mention the music of bizarre folk singer/guitarist/artist Michael Hurley. If you haven’t been following his career since the 1970s (when he was collaborating with the likes of the Holy Modal Rounders and Jesse Colin Young) then you probably discovered him in the past couple of years via Devendra Banhart’s & Andy Cabic’s label Gnomonsong, who have released Hurley’s recent recordings.
Hurley’s debut album, First Songs, was recorded for Folkways Records in 1965 on the same reel-to-reel machine that taped Lead Belly’s Last Sessions. He was discovered by blues and jazz historian Frederick Ramsey III, and subsequently championed by boyhood friend Jesse Colin Young, who released Hurley’s next two album on The Youngbloods’ Warner Brother’s imprint, Raccoon. How’s that for cred?
In the 1970s, Hurley made three albums for Rounder Records; Have Moicy! (1975), Long Journey (1976), and Snockgrass (1980) which after being out of print for decades are now being reissued on Light In The Attic Records.
In recent years, tours with Son Volt and high praise from younger performers like Lucinda Williams, Vic Chesnutt, Calexico, and Cat Power, have increased Hurley’s legend.
"The Errant Charm" is a superb soundtrack for an afternoon idyll. Vetiver bandleader Andy Cabic spent hours wandering the streets around San Francisco’s Richmond District, listening to rough mixes, tinkering with lyrics and arrangements. The album opens with ‘It’s Beyond Me,’ a slow boil of acoustic guitar and vintage keyboards over a roomy beat. Here you’ll encounter almost every sonic idea showcased on "The Errant Charm," the album’s universe distilled into one vibrant song.
As the summery ‘Can’t You Tell’ unfurls, you’ll begin to pinpoint some of the album’s unifying elements, the integration of drum machines and a washed-out, ambient guitar sound, peppered with jangly flourishes. Then there’s ‘Hard To Break,’ the hazy, layered harmonies and sunlight-dappled guitar evoking fond memories of Fleetwood Mac circa 1982’s ‘Mirage.’
Cabic and producer Thom Monahan have already made four Vetiver records together and know each other’s aesthetics well. It was time to experiment more, which was why Cabic didn’t arrive at Monahan’s Los Angeles studio with many completed songs. Instead, they started with lots of loose ideas and fleshed out the best bits. In some instances, they augmented or edited parts by themselves, and at other junctures they waited until the remaining Vetiver players could convene in one place to contribute.
"The Errant Charm"… Errant as in wayward, elusive. Wandering but not lost. Within that wandering, all manner of treasures waiting to be uncovered, and new ones that surface with each listen.