Friday, February 20, 2009

Ralph White - Navasota River Devil Squirrel (Mystra / Spirit of Orr, 2008)

For me, everything about Ralph White screams that sort of purity that once was prominent in music. I can't say anything that would do the man justice so here are a few reviews.

"Non-traditional traditional? Indo-African mountain songs? Rocking-chair string ephemera? What longtime Austinite and former Bad Liver Ralph White puts on albums and onstage is so mind-boggling and vast, it forces those of us in the description business down a treacherous path. His five-string fretless banjos and African kalimbas – resonating thumb pianos – mix with accordion and fiddle to create an Eastern Appalachian sound, but it's much more complicated than that. White's second solo release, Navasota River Devil Squirrel, is displacement on disc. It's the culmination of years of experimentation and travel woven into a magic carpet, jetting off hither and fro, crossing continent boundaries and civil wars. Opening traditional "Look Down That Road," transforms into a psychedelic atlas on White's twangy voice and hypnotic kalimba. Originals like instrumental fiddle/accordion romp "Navasota River Devil Squirrel 1 & 2," the vocally distorted "History 1 (Conspiracy Theory)," and eerie closer "Devil Squirrel 3" saddle up alongside early-century fables as though they were long-lost cousins. White's melodies and lyrics scratch the surface of the Old World, leaving just a contemporary hint of now. Therein lies the magic."

"Totally fantastic slice of genuine American primitive genius: White was a member of the punk/bluegrass outfit Bad Livers and this amazing solo album was originally released as a CD-R in 2007 and now gets a hip limited vinyl pressing thanks to Joshua Burkett’s new imprint, Mystra, in an edition of 600 copies with crude, hand-glued cover art and insert. White’s most immediate formal model is obviously Dock Boggs, with that same kinda lonesome, hypnotic delivery, though the music is more ornate and drug-complex, combining beautiful matrices of live and overdubbed wooden 6 string banjo, violin, accordion and kalimba. The tracks combine traditional and originals, with recurring lines and mythic characters freely wandering from one to the other. White magnifies the drone that was always at the heart of the music of Dock Boggs and the early Stanley Brothers, situating it between source and spectrasound as beautifully as Matthew Valentine, Joshua, Dredd Foole or Willie Lane. His vocals have a particularly spell-binding quality to them, zoning out into smears of sound and picking their way around the words like birds on a corpse and the arrangements are gloriously detailed, webs of strange strings that vibrate in complex, primitively executed architectures. This is as fine a navigation of the original American mystery zone as I can recall, a great, oddball/loner slice of free folk that comes from deep within the tradition while still remaining convincingly other. Highly recommended."

Probably my favorite release of 2008 and limited to 600 copies, I suggest picking up your own if you really like it. I will also be deleting the link so get it quick!


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