Recluses Unite... CD - Dual Plover
Roustabout CD - Misplaced
Stylistically, these two releases have limited similarity, but each is the product of a man with a jones for the past, and what might be called an obsession with undoing both the advances of recording technology and the changing musical tastes of much of the 20th century. I am reminded of the artistic partnership of McDermott & McGough, whose work involves contemporary, painstakingly created illusions of the past, and who live their lives cemented into an elaborate recreation of Manhattan, circa 1910. I suppose it’s not about a head in the sand adulation of the past so much as an odd exhortation to the rest of us to examine the present.
On Recluses Unite..., Brooklyn’s Al Duvall tours us through a world of comedic Vaudevillian crooning and slightly anachronistic naughty burlesque ditties. While never dipping outright into minstrelsy, the less than frilly arrangements of banjo and voice, embellished at times by other musical illusions of the time, certainly call it to mind. Some tracks, “The Wreck of the General Slocum,” for example, get a dusting of faux crepitus that makes them seem to be long lost treasures rescued from the last remaining wax cylinder discovered in the dusty attic of some abandoned and decaying home in the Poconos.
Kicking off Minnesotan Charlie Parr’s Roustabout, the finger-picked banjo and out there on the edge backwoods vocal of “Don’t Send Your Child to War” is a slice of a very different Americana, far removed from the theatrical touring circuit. Parr is channeling the spirit of such gothic mainstays as Dock Boggs. Roustabout then explores a variety of organic mountain blues styles. Parr’s originals, though recorded to tape (“in true monophonic sound”) in a number of living rooms, garages and basements, are populated by lyrics a bit too contemporary for the songs to truly live in the world the music would have them in. Three traditional tunes are served up, most satisfyingly a take at breakneck speed on Blind Willie Johnson’s eerie telling of the Titanic disaster, “God Moves on the Water.”
Obviously, pop music is constantly eating its own past, revisiting styles and approaches in its herky-jerky forward momentum. Rarely is one shocked by the new. These discs do not so much revisit as attempt to revive. While Parr’s work will likely find a more receptive audience, given the popularity of rustic Americana right now, Duvall has definitely set upon the less travelled road, and just for that, might be a better pick. Still, with a fair amount of music of each of these styles from the day now readily available, I’d advise listeners to go for that old stuff.
By Michael Meade