Written By: Allen Brewer
Label: Gnomonsong – Rating:
What do Cat Power, the Violent Femmes and eKoostik Hookah have in common? They’ve all done covers of Michael Hurley songs. Hurley, the (reportedly) 68-year-old singer/songwriter is set to release a new album, Ida Con Snock, packed full of his trademark plaintitive vocals and plucky guitar playing.
The folk-y Hurley hasn’t slowed down at all. His writing is still as sharp as it was over 30 years ago. Right from the first song, “It Must Be Gelatine,” he utilizes a sing-songy rhythm and a guitar line that follows his voice. The playful opener is resplendent with false harmonics, emphasizing the delicate melody.
Other standout tracks are “Hog of the Forsaken,” “Loch Lomond/Molly Malone,” and the closing duo of “Ragg Mopp” and “Any Ninny Any.”
“Hog of the Forsaken” includes fiddle playing that wouldn’t seem out of place on a front porch many years earlier. The playing follows Hurley’s voice, similar to “It Must Be Gelatine,” and Hurley’s voice strengthens as the strings’ volume rises. They add a lot of life to what would otherwise be a fairly run-of-the-mill folk song and transform it into something special.
Hurley’s story-telling best is shown off in full force with “Loch Lomond/Molly Malone,” however. He is the opposite of verbose, no twenty paragraph Bob Dylan-esque lyrics here, just a simple story of when the narrator first saw Molly Malone. It’s a song that resonates the more you listen to it.
The album closes with “Ragg Mopp” and “Any Ninny Any.” Both are lively numbers, bringing a bit of nonsense and fun into the preceding songs, whose tones vary between melancholy and sorrowful. In the latter, the introduction of steel brush on a snare drum washes over the listener like a high tide, carrying the song with it. The bright, jumpy guitar lines double up and provide pleasant interludes between verses. Hurley ends his album on a high note.
If there is a fault with Ida Con Snock it is that the album drags a bit in the middle. While all the songs are crafted well, they can sound so similar that it’s easy to listen to the entire album while doing something else and let it float in one ear and out the other.
Overall, however, Hurley is still a master of his craft. On Ida Con Snock, he shows why so many of a younger musical generation still see him as a legend and pay tribute to his work. His songwriting and ability to tell a story through music is as good as it ever has been.
Like Michael Hurley? Check out The Holy Modal Rollers or Michael Nesmith