Recorded during one forty-hour period in 1973, 'Red Hash' by Gary Higgins is one of the great 'lost' albums of all time. A lovely, sad, wistful folk album, 'Red Hash' was recorded so quickly because Higgins had recently been arrested on drug charges and was facing years in prison.
Shortly after the album was self released on his own Nufusmoon label, Higgins seemed to disappear and seemingly gave up a career in music, firstly serving out his prison sentence and later falling into domestic life marrying and having a child, and 'Red Hash' fell into the abyss.
It was during the mid-1990s, when 'Red Hash' began to get noticed. Partly due to the development of the internet (word spread about the album online and pirated copies began to appear on ebay) and partly down to musicians, such as Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance, who began to cite the album as a major influence. Chasny even covered one of 'Red Hash's' many standout tracks, "Thicker than a Smokey" on the quite brilliant Six Organs of Admittance album 'School of the Flower' (2005). The story took a further turn for the better when A&R man Zach Cowie received a burned copy of the album from Chasny and was so enchanted with what he heard, decided to set out and find Higgins. The search paid off and the album was remastered and released to critical acclaim by Drag City in 2005.
'Red Hash' is a gem of an album that has aged fantastically well, comparisons with Skip Spence's 'Oar' and David Crosby's 'If I Could Only Remember My Name' begin to position this record in the "classic" territory that it deserves to be in.
So it is with great excitement that I found out about another tribute record for another fantastic American singer. 'Crayon Angel: A Tribute To The Music Of Judee Sill' features new recordings by Bill Callahan ("For a Rainbow"), Ron Sexsmith (“Crayon Angels”), Beth Orton (“Reach for the Sky”), Marisa Nadler & Black Hole Infinity (“The Kiss”), Meg Baird (“When the Bridegroom Comes”), Daniel Rossen from Grizzly Bear (“Waterfall”) and P.G. Six (“Til Dreams Come True”) amongst others.
Sill was the first artist signed to David Geffen's Asylum Records and released two cult albums, 'Judee Sill' (1971) and 'Heart Food' (1973), before seemingly vanishing from the music scene and eventually dying of a drug overdose in 1974.
Before she passed away, Sill recorded demos for a third album in early 1974, which were released, along with other rarities, in a Jim O'Rourke mixed collection in 2005, 'Dreams Come True'.
'Crayon Angel: A Tribute To The Music Of Judee Sill' is released by American Dust later this year.
I am really excited about the imminent Neil Young Archives Volume 1 release. It seems less and less now that I actually get excited by owning the physical product when it comes to record releases, but this is one case where I am. It seems like Neil Young, who is the driving force behind this long promised release, get's it. He seems to understand what makes something valuable and special enough not to just be content with a digital copy.
This first volume of the Archives series traces Neil Young's career from his first recordings with the Squires at the beginning of the sixties, via Buffalo Springfield and CSNY, right through to the 1972 sessions for 'Harvest'. The Blu-Ray edition features an interactive time-line and a lavish hardback book, each providing a thorough overview of his recordings and performances from this era. Also included on the Blu-Ray edition is Young's first film, the long unavailable 'Journey Through The Past'.
My bank balance might not feel the same, but I really hope that the Neil Young Archive series creates a blueprint for other artists to use to assemble their own music-based multimedia scrapbook in the future.
Up until a couple of weeks ago Graham Nash was the only member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young that I had little or no appreciation for the solo work of. That was until I discovered his 1971 masterpiece 'Songs For Beginners'.
A somewhat sentimental and sensitive work (it came on the back of a temporary split with David Crosby and Stephen Stills and a permanent split with his then love, Joni Mitchel), 'Songs For Beginners' lives in a similar orbit to Neil Young's 'Harvest' and is eminently listenable. Accompanied by a star studded cast including CSNY band mates, Neil Young and David Crosby, as well as Rita Coolidge, Jerry Garcia, Dave Mason and P.P. Arnold, this record has really challenged for me the notion of Nash being the 'weak link' in CSNY.
Watching Heartworn Highways for the umpteenth time I was reminded of how damn good Townes Van Zandt is. It is unbelievable that someone who has written so many fantastic songs is not more well known or widely appreciated.
The closest that country music came to having a songwriter to compare with Dylan, Townes Van Zandt spent most of his life on the fringes. A cult musician he never had a commercially successful album or single in his lifetime and even had difficulty for many years keeping his recordings in print. Success, of sorts, came in the early eighties when Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard had a number one on the country music charts with a cover of his song "Pancho and Lefty", but achievements like these were too few and far between and Van Zandt, notorious for his drink and drug addictions died on New Years Day 1997 from health problems stemming from his years of substance abuse.