Of My Native Land
Paleo Music CD PAL 5001-2, 2002 (50:24)
Glenn Brooks, 14 December 2002
Maybe it all started with Holger Czukay, the cracked genius of the German progrock band Can. In 1979 he released Movies, a solo album that featured a track with a Iranian singer (captured via shortwave) backed by a loopy pop background. Soon thereafter, Brian Eno and David Byrne did My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, taking sampled vocals backed by studio wizardry mainstream. Well, maybe not mainstream but at least tributarial.
Now here come Conrad Praetzel and Robert Powell, a pair of long-time musical compatriots who have dubbed themselves Clothesline Revival this time around. In the years between Movies and today, sampling and cover tunes have moved from one-off novelty side projects to the bases of entire careers, for better or worse. Myself, I like this rip-off-the-past stuff when it is well done, as it is here. Of My Native Land is a collection of folk and country songs - old, new, borrowed, and blue - backed by electronic beats, slide guitars and other exotica. Many of the songs, like "Little Maggie" and "Wade in the Water," will be familiar to fans of the old-time music.
Most of the tracks feature vocals, sung or spoken, new and old. The new vocalists are mainly Tom Armstrong, who can honky-tonk with the best of them, and Wendy Allen, with her pure folk voice. Armstrong does a very credible job on the leadoff song, Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man," and three others. Of Allen's four songs, "Turtledove" is a highlight, with her clear soprano floating above electronic clanks and thunks sounding like an underwater mining operation. Aric Leavitt (a singer I am not familiar with) does "Little Maggie" in a style that will please fans of the Bad Livers' Danny Barnes. Of the older samples, Leadbelly's "When I Was a Cowboy" (here called "Cow Cow Yicky Yea") is treated just fine. Even better, and the best tracks on the album, are "Calling Trains," with "an unidentified train caller," and "Pullin' the Skiff," a brief bubbling children's rhyme sung by Ora Dell Graham. A nice shaggy dog story told by Doug Wallin, "Story About William Riley Shelton," is set to a simple beat. There are also two instrumentals, "Bodie," a space cowboy song complete with harmonica, and an hidden track at the end, where a squeaky porch swing meets a scratchy fiddle band.
The evocative photos on the album cover and notes are from E. T. Wickham's folk sculpture installations in Palmyra, Tennessee, and the album title is taken from an inscription there. The majestic half-ruined statues suit the mood of the album perfectly.
The audio quality is excellent. This seems to be true of other Conrad Praetzel albums, which have become favorites of new-age-leaning audiophiles. I checked out Receive, where Praetzel and Powell do a turn on Eastern musics (which I very much enjoyed) and Myth and Memories, which is pretty much your standard issue new age album (and less intriguing to my ear). These also had great sound.
performers Conrad Praetzel, beats, bass, atmospherics, guitars, mandolin; Robert Powell, pedal and lap steel guitars, electric guitar, ebow, harmony vocals; Tom Armstrong and Wendy Allen, vocals; and others
songs Ramblin' Man · Cow Cow Yicky Yea · Gypsy Laddie · Wade in the Water · My Home Is Not a Home · Bodie · The One I Love Is Gone · Little Maggie · Story About William Riley Shelton · The Turtledove · Calling Trains · Pullin' the Skiff · My Sweet Love Ain't Around · The Time Has Come
For more information, see the Paleo Music web site. For photos of E. T. Wickham's folk sculpture, see the web site by his grandson.
If you like this album, be sure to check out the similar paths worked very successfully by Greg Hale Jones, either on Now There Is a Tree of Ghosts (featured on the soundtrack for The General's Daughter), or Crossing the Willamettte.