Michael Hurley has seen better days though he remains close to the ground in his music-making, blending folk and blues in a raw tavernside voice and tone. The amateur cartooning, done by Mike, is perhaps best indicative of the music: strange, elusive in meaning, underground, and rough. On the other hand, he's capable of better even while juxtaposed with the sub-standard, as his watercolor cover illustrates. I hope the metaphor is somewhat clear.
Ancestral Swamp is not of an ilk with such releases as, say, his Warner Bros. / Racoon (the Youngblood's sub-label) Hi-Fi Snock Uptown nor the later Watertower on his own label but it's not all that far from them, either. Perhaps the best comparative would be one of the songs I favor most by him, The Twilight Zone, where he balanced the unusual psychedelic hobo minstrel role nicely between appointments with the bottle and stream of consciousness. He's still doing that in a gonzo fashion but not with the precision he once had, though, truth to tell, almost no one can do this kind of way-outsider lone wolf material rightly. As Ron Davies said, it ain't easy.
Still, with New River Blues and more than half the cuts here, the old light shines brightly, re-evoking that what-the-hell? reception which has always most defined the guy, forcing the listener to pay attention because it's going to be a while before he hears more of this brand of rambling bluesfolk music. As well, his take on Streets of Laredo is very cool, bare bones and as dusty as the ghost towns it has come to reflect. Thus, though Swamp may be said to be uneven, it has a good deal more charm than deficit. For Hurley cultists, it'll be indispensible; for modern audiences, it stands as a good cipher for what many young bands are reaching for but only rarely capturing. Keep in mind Davies' prophecy.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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