Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Freak Folk - Beginnings

Freak Folk Beginnings/Influences

The Rhapslibrary recently got some great additions of a genre that has become to be known as 'freak-folk.' It's an unfortunate genre name, as it poorly dumps some folks together that are either not 'freak' or 'folk,' but it's a name that has stuck. When you say it, artists like Devandra Banhart, Animal Collective and Joanna Newsom are the first that come to mind. But the main waver of the freak flag is young folk artist Devendra Banhart, and truly one of the nice things about Banhart is he's never shy about naming his influences, and so we start with these influences/inspiration/beginnings.

While Nick Drake is considered "a saint," according to Banhart, their living inspiration seems to truly be Vashti Bunyan, who only released one album (Just Another Diamond Day) but has seen a comeback of sorts, recently appearing on songs with Banhart ("Rejoicing in the Hands") and Animal Collective ("It's You.") Bunyan's one album was produced by Joe Boyd, who also produced British folk artists Fairport Convention, and the Incredible String Band. It also featured arrangements by Robert Kirby who was also Nick Drake's arranger as well. Other folk/psychedelic-folk artists cited include the finger-pick stylings of John Fahey and Bert Jansch, the lyrical style of early Marc Bolan (Tyrannosaurus Rex,) and Donovan, vocal style of Karen Dalton, and worldly influence of Ali Akbar Khan and Ali Farka Toure. These artists danced around the margins of folk, not playing to the political/protest or the traditional styles that were popular at the time. Nick Drake is often cited, but it's his late recordings that sound more like an influence, at a time when his depression was so consuming, he could barely speak a full sentence.

Karen Dalton is another one album artist who's got a lot of cache with the new movement. She was in with Bob Dylan and Fred Neil and released an album mostly covering their material, making it her own, but she's still mostly unknown today. Says Banhart:
I've really got no idea why Karen Dalton is unknown. She is one of the most amazing musicians in the universe. Forget about the amount of soul she's got -- she's got the most far-out, fucked up, amazing soul. She's the most soulful singer in the universe. But the technicalities...her timing and her phrasing is perfect. It's beyond perfect. You can't even try to imitate it because it's like beyond, it's brilliant.
Bert Jansch's is another terribly under-appreciated artist and guitarist. His angular, interlacing fingerpicking influenced Neil Young, Nick Drake, and Jimmy Page, with Young even going so far as saying that Jansch did for the acoustic guitar what Jimi Hendrix did for the electric. When the new appreciation for Nick Drake started 5+ years ago, it made sense that Jansch's work would follow, but he still remains unknown (while Clapton still has God status? I ask you, where's the justice!) John Fahey, on the other hand, while just as innovative and talented, was a bit odd and it's no surprise that he's relatively unknown. His tastes ran from Native American to Raga, to Blues and back (and through, and all together...) A great find for the discerning ear, as he's got a huge catalogue of music to consume.

Marc Bolan's early work in the folk-duo Tyrannosaurus Rex is barely recognizable to it's later electric glam incarnation, T.Rex. Bolan was so into Lord of the Rings at the time, he interwove it's characters and story line into many of his songs (even naming his bandmate Steve Peregrin Took, after the Rings character.) After few releases and a lineup change, Bolan (like fellow psychedelic folkie David Bowie) moved into glam. Donovan, on the other hand, had more conventional pop leanings, but in much of his early recordings (and some of his later psychedelic work) the lyrics, like Bolan's, were out there.

Non-western influences abound as well, especially from the East in the form of Ali Akbar Khan. A master of the sarod, a 25-stringed, lute-like, Indian instrument, Khan is one of the Eastern world's greatest musicians. From West Africa, Ali Fraka Toure was described as "the African John Lee Hooker" so often both Hooker and Toure must've cringed after awhile. But he's that good, and that important to folk music.

This combination of artists together make for a very interesting legacy, one that was picked up in the 2000's and is now the phenomenon that is Freak Folk.

Next: The current Freak Folk movement.

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drake leLane said...

Freak Folk Influences

* "Ribbon Bow" - Karen Dalton
* "Strolling Down The Highway" - Bert Jansch
* "The Perfumed Garden of Gulliver Smith" - T. Rex
* "On The Sunny Side Of The Ocean" - John Fahey
* "Mr. Spaceman" - The Holy Modal Rounders
* "First Girl I Loved" - The Incredible String Band
* "Black Eyed Dog" - Nick Drake
* "I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again" - Roscoe Holcomb
* "Two Lovers" - Ali Akbar Khan
* "Fotheringay" - Fairport Convention
* "Translucent Carriages" - Pearls Before Swine
* "The Summer Day Reflection Song" - Donovan
* "Seal Of The Blue Lotus" - Robbie Basho
* "Timbarma" - Ali Farka Toure
* "An Occasional Dream" - David Bowie
* "Golden Hair" - Syd Barrett

Anonymous said...

karen dalton actually released two lp's. the second is on sunshine/paramount and is called in my own time and it is very differen't from the first, but just as good. i don't know if it is on cd