No one with an ounce of sense will dare accuse Michael Hurley of having been anything less than an eccentric, one of 100 or so foremost in American musics…for his entire career, so this release, his best, is going to be a bit of a poser, though it shouldn't. Now, well into his advanced rootsy years, Hurley has finally settled into what he's so long been composing on top of: the ol' basics, and this disc is not just good, it's extremely good.
Ida Con Snock is the most accessible of all Hurley's many releases far and near because it sits grinningly in its own backbone: rural folk, Americana, Appalachian, and other primordial refrains of the country. The CD is his most melodic and a lot of the credit for that goes to a well-chosen round robin of backing musicians, young players who very much understand their elder inspiration's antecedents but have been acclaimed as experimentalists and dub themselves 'Ida' (Hurley's long-time alter-ego is 'Snock'; hence the album title). In fact, describing their accompaniment as 'sparkling' would hit the mark most satisfactorily, even to the degree that Bruce Cockburn enjoyed early in his career, though these musicians oft depart considerably from the decorousness Cockburn's crew maintained.
Expect to be shocked by this disc. It does contain his trademark maverick sidelights -- like humano-trumpet (cool voice-fake brass), off rhythms, slop just this side of sussed that warms the ears and heart, and the usual Hurleyisms—but, like Kelly Phelps taking his magnetically bizarre turn into Western Bell (here), this guitarist-composer is going to surprise everyone by treading the opposite mill road…with equal skill and humanity. He's been championed by Jesse Colin Young (that's how I came across Mike in the first place, following on my love for the Youngbloods' Elephant Mountain), and his first release on Folkways Records in '65 was recorded on the same tape machine that documented Leadbelly's Last Sessions. If Ida Con Snock is any indication of a permanent change of direction, then Michael Hurley has a whole new career ahead of him, and, man, wouldn't that be a welcome event?
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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