VA: Imaginational Anthem Vol. 8: The Private Press
Tompkins Square

How obscure are the artists on the eighth chapter in Tompkins Square's acoustic guitar series? So little-known that even the label's owner, Josh Rosenthal, was unfamiliar with all but one of the fourteen-song compilation's artists (Perry Lederman, for the record). Don't interpret that as indicative of sub-par quality, however, but instead a sign of just how much incredible music there is waiting to be unearthed by archivists, in this case compilers Michael Klausman (one-time LP buyer for NYC's Other Music) and Brooks Rice. Available in digital, CD, and double-LP vinyl formats, this particular edition focuses on rare private press recordings from 1968-1995, and like others in the Imaginational Anthem series features a wealth of superb acoustic guitar performances.

Lederman leads off the set with “One Kind Favor” (from 1995's This World Is Not My Home), a fine if brief sampling of his blues-and-raga-influenced fingerpicking (some contend Lederman taught Dylan how to fingerpick). Brooding, too, is the Keithe Lowrie Duet's ruminative “Snow Queen,” which John Lowrie and Ron Keithe issued on their only album release, Avec Moi, in 1979, while “Obadiah” (Sending, 1975) by Belgium-born and classically trained Michael Kleniec also traffics in a heavily raga-influenced brand of acoustic guitar drift. In some cases, overdubbing is used, cases in point Tom Armstrong's “White Pines” (The Sky is an Empty Eye, 1987), which sees the Texas-based guitarist blending acoustic and electric playing into six minutes of tranquil entrancement, and Herb Moore's “Wen Also Found” (Hinterland, 1983), a luscious setting of serene disposition that augments his acoustic patterns with the bell-like tones of a homemade “scrapophone” instrument.

Certain tracks stand out, Lee Murdock's beautiful 1983 setting, “Where the Pinery Narrows,” among them. It's fitting that he's known as “The Balladeer of the Great Lakes,” given how powerful a story his elegant, lilting song tells in its transporting five minutes; Murdock's picking evokes the experience of being high up a mountain where the air thins and feelings of peace and relaxation arise. Uplifting, too, are Kip Dobler's “The Presence” (Reaching Out From the Inside, 1990), which likewise feels like it's inhaling the replenishing air of the open fields, and Rick Deitrick's “Missy Christa” (Gentle Wilderness, 1978), a delicate reverie he wrote next to the Big Sur River where he was camping. One of the collection's loveliest tunes is “The Diamond Cutter,” a stirring twelve-string evocation Larry Conklin composed in 1978 and released two years later (Jackdaw, 1980); the slide effects on the song are not only beautifully rendered but also reinforce the dream-like character of the material.

Not all pieces are acoustic fingerpicking workouts. Joe Bethancourt's “Raga” (Joe Bethancourt's String Concert Album, 1969) ventures into quasi-psychedelic territory when the Texas-born guitarist punctuates electric shadings with trippy flourishes (according to Bethancourt's widow, when he played the tune at a Hollywood party in 1967, Jimi Hendrix was so impressed he rewarded him with a sitar). Nancy Tucker spent a summer during high school in Santiago, Chile where she absorbed the music scene and the culture, an experience vividly captured in her animated setting “That Spanish Thing” (A Little Stronger, 1983), and in perhaps the biggest departure, Stan Samole's “Prayer Blessing” (America: The Soaring Service Body / America: The Diving Oneness Soul, 1976) adds jazz flavour to the recording in overlaying a rapid fingerpicking base with virtuosic, at times McLaughlin-esque soloing.

These are storytellers with tales worth telling, and how fortunate we are that Tompkins Square has allowed us a new opportunity to hear them. However little-known they might be, these songs register powerfully, no matter how many years ago they entered the world, and adding considerably to the release are in-depth liner notes by Klausman, Rice, and Rosenthal that provide extensive background detail and context for the artists and their tracks.

October 2016