The Drag City Newsletter, June 29, 2010

posted June 29th, 2010


Summertime, and the living is elsewhere. What’s going on? Any shows in town tonight? There better be, because school’s out, and once the kids go home, it’s a old-school truism in the record business, sales dive into the toilet just like those self-same kids back at their home-town watering holes. When will someone build a record shack in those old home-towns? People still have to buy records!

Or do they?


One thing we’re sure that people do like is paying less for music than has ever been asked for music before! Now how do we know that, given that we never leave the bunker and are scared of meeting new people? Well, as sure as the sun is blue, we’re selling tons of our back catalog via the Drag City Going...Going...Sold! campaign. How it works is that every week, starting on Monday, we announce on the webpage which record from our storied history is going on sale. And for the next seven days, LPs, downloads and even CDs are on sale for as much as 50% off. It’s a sweet deal. Have you checked out the item of the week this week? You might be missing a chance to pay next-to-nothing for an awesome record! It’s true, it’s not the same as paying nothing – but until your next looting excursion, it’s the cheapest way to find your Drag City classics on vinyl etc.


Selling records – whooo! And selling records in the summertime – gee. Mama never said selling records in June would be easy. But she also never said that selling records in June would be so hard! This is our mantra every June. See, we’re traditionally unwilling to quit on the idea that you can sell records in the summer. And everywhere that we look and everywhere that we hear, people are playing their music, whether it is stuffed into their ears like little buds of insulation, separating them from the world they never made; coming out of the computer speakers with all the flash and fury of a good old transistor radio, or what the hell, spinning on the turntable and jamming through your grandfathers’s speakers! The moral of this non-story: nobody ever really stops listening to music, no matter what the calendar says! So why shouldn’t we grab a piece of the early summer action? This year, we’ve done…fuck, we’ve done what we always do! We’ve lined up a set of stimulating titles, all of which work together as a spicy variety plate or as a tapas-like progression of sound-flavors. God knows, women love tapas! If you’re a foodie, but for music? Check this food-like music shit out:


We’ve spent some years sampling the ever-aging fine wine (of music! Remember the metaphor) that Alasdair Roberts has decanted over the years. But that’s nothing compared to the aged music he listens to every day, when literally hundreds of years pass over his ears. This fellow has a strong sympathy with the voices of men and women from ages past – and yet, he’d never want to live anytime but today, in an era where these voices, traditions and beliefs can be collated, contrasted and recontextualized for enjoyment in this latter era. Call us biased, but nobody brings together the old and the new like our Earthly man Alasdair. Whether he’s making his new songs up out of the strands of tradition (on records like Farewell Sorrow and Spoils) or putting his stamp on the traditionals in a way that honors both yesterday and tomorrow (like No Earthly Man), he’s a singular and compelling presence. And this June, he’s back from the graves of unknown songwriters with a new collection of auld traditionals credited to Alasdair Roberts and Friends and entitled Too Long In This Condition. Romping and reeling through eleven numbers (all but one from the Child and Roud collections), a fine and fierce sense of community is conveyed through stomping, clamping, harmony vocals, fiddles, basses, drums and of course guitars. There’s even a touch of quintessentially American sounds like lap steel and jew’s harp – but a touch of Uillean pipes as well, to bring it all back home again. Too Long In This Condition is the best folking record you’ll buy all year. Take (by which we mean buy) it from us.


Harmonizing and womanizing perfectly with Roberts’ exhumation of traditionals is the newest release from our friends at Twos & Fews, Hamper McBee’s The Good Old-Fashioned Way. Those guys are vault-scrapers from way back, and along with Nimrod Workman’s I Want To Go Where Things Are Beautiful, this new release is an example of the wealth of fine traditional American music sitting in collections around the country. Like Nimrod, Hamper was an member of the Appalachian culture that had developed in the eastern US over several hundred years. His role in the mid-20th-century version of that culture was that of a moonshiner and a drunk, a man weaving in and out of the world of law and order. In addition to these unwholesome roles, he was also a natural entertainer and the life of a party, full of great stories and songs that would come tumbling out with the slightest provocation. This ability of Hamper’s had already been tapped for an album of songs in the early 1960s, and in the late 1970s, he was again recorded after Sol Korine’s documentary feature on him entitled “Raw Mash” was broadcast over PBS. This led to an album on Rounder of the same name – and for a time, Hamper McBee was known outside of his home county in Tennessee. By the time of his death in 1998, these records were long since out of print – but now, The Good Old-Fashioned Way collects most of the Raw Mash album and adds a number of pieces deemed a little too bawdy for release back in 1977 along with great liner notes and photos enclosed. The Good Old-Fashioned Way is new again! And somewhere, ol’ Hamper McBee is laughing. Loud.


Also available here at the end of June is original soundtrack material from one of 2010’s most divisive films, Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. Whatever you think of it (and we think a lot of it), Trash Humpers has certainly elevated some of Nashville’s finest weirdos to an Egglestonian level, and the soundtrack 7” single and CD features some of their musical and extra-musical efforts in a compact (but side-busting) fifteen minutes (nobody deserves more than that, right?). In addition to the music and elsewise, the sleeves themselves are worthy of collection, having been trashed for your pleasure – and buy them soon, will you? The warehouse is beginning to stink somethin’ awful! The specially Korine-signed batch of 7” singles is SOLD OUT, but the CD packages all have his special mark, so order them soon.


That’s right, say it two times! All the best Yaala Yaala releases come in twos and this June, we’ve got a two-fer from the Malian music label that’s got all the rest beat for pure, all-Malian back country roots and blues. This time around, the two musicians are a couple of the young lions of donso ngoni playing, Toba Seydou Traore and Abdoulaye Traore. The donso ngoni music is a traditional song played to praise legendary hunters and prepare contemporary hunters for the hunt they are about to embark upon. It’s an ancient tradition and one that still has weight and value in today’s rural Malian society. Both these men studied with Yoro Sidibe, who was featured on Yaala Yaala’s last release, and both excel at the gritty, rhythmic, extended songs that are the donso ngoni’s stock in trade. For some deep down-home dance music, Mali-style, check out both these self-titled new releases.


So anyway, fuck June. Chances are it’s done already wherever you’re reading this. It’s full of great records from Drag City, big shit. What have we done for you lately? Like in the future, right? Well, we reckon July’s a month to head for parts unknown, camp out in the cabin and spend your days out in the middle of a lake doing some fly-fishing, then sit on the porch and take a load off. What that means to us is, previously mostly unheard vinyl reissues and a book!

Coming from Galactic Zoo Disk is a perfect summer record of countrified garage rock from downstate Illinois’ Spur! These guys were known as The Unknowns in ‘66 and ‘67 before evolving into Spur, as whom they played around from 1968-1972. A bunch of recordings were made, some of which became the album Spur Of the Moment. Go ahead, try and find it, we’ll be psyched for you if you do. Once GZD had made contact with the Spur boys, a number of other amazing tracks came to light that demanded release along with the best of the original album release. This makes for an awesome 11-song journey through the Unknowns/Spur odyssey, a medley of mid-to-late-60s styles, covering The Byrds, The Beatles and The Youngbloods alongside their own worthy originals. Featuring the original Spur Of the Moment artwork, the Galactic Zoo Disks version adds an ‘s’ (as in Of the Moments), making a real good time for all your 60s-70s listening parties, innocent pot smoking hangouts and post-sock-hop dance events.

Also coming from the past is Matthew Young’s 1986 album Traveler’s Advisory. Young had previously released an album of electronic music entitled Recurring Dreams, but after that, he’d become enamored of playing his dulcimer and banjo and decided to combine the sounds together – casio synths, drum machines and acoustic folk and blues sounds form the approach of Traveler’s Advisory, which ranged around from folk songs like “Dummy Line” and Michael Hurley’s “Werewolf” to ancient and classical songs like “Kyrie Eleison” and “Carmina Burana” to self-written tunes. It’s a unique album and very sweet music to be pumping back into stores all these years later.

For your reading pain and pleasure, we’ve got a debut from that musical master of S&M, Bill Callahan. Letters To Emma Bowlcut is just that, a series of communiquÉs from an unknown writer to a girl he calls Emma Bowlcut. Of course, this book is so much more as well - an epistolary exposition of a man’s soul told in half a dialogue. The tone is dry, acerbic, sympathetic and occasionally Mitty-esque – the words of someone used to living in his own head, with all the possibilities that affords. It’s a hip-pocket paperback perfect for adolescent lifestyles, ideal for reading at bus stops and in-between customers. It’s gonna make a great library book too. Before it gets to the library, now’s your chance – get your own personal copy of Bill Callahan’s Letters To Emma Bowlcut.


August already! We haven’t even written June off yet! Well, it’s just around the corner anyway, and our late-August release date will come just in time for all you back-to-Skoal types. Starting then, Royal Trux’s masterpiece (well, one of their nine masterpieces) Cats and Dogs gets the reissue treatment. LPs and CDs will flow like blood-red wine just like in days of old. Also coming in August is Neil Hamburger’s Hot February Night, capturing his adventures in front of some of the biggest (and most hostile) crowds of his career while opening arenas for Tenacious D. This is a vinyl-only release, having previously worn out its welcome as a limited tour-only CDR (much like Hamburger himself). This is a comedy record where the audience is almost as funny as the comedian. Get ready…


Way back in the late 1960s when the modern rock festival was birthed in raw mud and sweet brown acid, who knew how predictably ubiquitous this so-called “festival” would become in what was then known as “the future.” Here it is now, that very future and look at us! We haven’t conquered the galaxy in the least bit! We don’t fly off to Mars at a moment’s notice…we don’t even have the widely-anticipated hovercraft of yore! And shows…it’s hard to even play a show in the summertime anymore without somebody somewhere calling it a festival! Can making money off music have become so difficult that a loose sampling of every sound under the sun be combined together for fun and profit? Ridiculous! Outrageous! Unforgivable. And yet - despite the obvious vulgarities evident in the aesthetics of such affairs, our artists occasionally have to accept the entreaties of the festival crowd. There’s money there, and more importantly, people to play in front of, and that’s what this is all about. Fortunately there is an alternative circuit, and it’s one we’re more than familiar with.


The clubs! The street! The kids! As a body grows older, and the names all change, these haunts manage to stay the same. In the world of rock and roll music, the bars, galleries and alternative performance spaces represent truth and deliver the value that only hard-won experience can. Here is where it all begins. These are the shows you remember all your life, not those forgettable moments in the convenient-but-expensive mega-dome near you. The club shows are the ones that count, the ones that give you your first taste, the ones that…sob…musicians can’t wait to be done with! Oh, it’s hard life. But now that selling music is a sucker’s game (thanks, kids!), the lifespan of yer average musician just got shortened – cause there’s nothing like driving all over creation every days only to sit around waiting in a bunch of bars to help cut a few years of one’s life-expectancy. But how else are these guys gonna make money? Sheesh!

Oh, and speaking of playing shows all over everywhere, the roster is braving the heat and playing shows if and where they can throughout July and on into the future. If you’re in the US, catch CAVE, Bert Jansch, Monotonix, Sir Richard Bishop, Joanna Newsom, Elisa Randazzo and Sir Richard Bishop (free all month long in Brooklyn). If you’re in the UK, your priorities are Alasdair Roberts, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Monotonix – that’s right, nobody works both sides of the pond as assiduously as Monotonix.


…marching to the stoooore! In our latest bit of cross-promotional fucking genius, we’re pushing original soundtrack 7” singles and CDs into shops as Harmony Korine’s latest piece-de-eeccchh slowly widens its theatrical run across the US-iverse. The resultant world of mouth (which is an infinite-sized dimension encompassing more than yer pathetic blogosphere on the wind of a thousand tongues) is a violently mixed bag of ultimately irresistible he-said, she-said that only seems to inspire more cinemas to book Trash Humpers in more towns around the country (and verily, the world)! Stretching out from here ‘til September, we’ve got premieres, screenings, limited runs and yes, even the odd festival (but it’s a Canadian festival – so how odd can it be? Or is the reverse the truth?). That’ll be one way to remember the summer of 2010 – the season of Trash Humpers! Though that way of remembering may lead to an OC desire to take a nice cleansing shower following each memory – but hey, there’s worse things!


It’s been awhile – in fact, too long, since we’ve had news from the circus tents that house the world’s last troubadours, Faun Fables. But now, they’ve got a new release – another baby girl named Ura to join little Edda in the Faun/Frykdahl traveling musical family. Oh and there’s also another record too, just completed and slated for this fall. More on that – but in the meantime, celebrate the news! The world is one creative musical soul stronger. Cheers Dawn and Nils.

And why not cruise on that note – we’re another soul stronger. Word. Don’t fuck it up people – and we’ll see you next time,

Rian Murphy

Drag City Inc.

June 2010