Ryler Walker has big ears and an open heart – which is to say that his daring music is a deftly blended amalgam of a multitude of musical genres and he isn’t afraid to lay it all on the line, emotionally speaking.
In support of his stunning, recently released sophomore album, Primrose Green, the 25-year-old Chicago-based acoustic guitar phenom made his Nippertown debut recently at the Half Moon in Hudson. It was a dazzling hour-long display of the American Primitivism guitar stylings pioneered by John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Peter Lang and carried into the 21st century by such fretboard masters as Daniel Bachman, Steve Gunn and William Tyler – mind-boggling finger-picking rooted in traditional folk, but applied to more of an avant-garde, neo-classical aesthetic.
Accompanied by the sublimely understated electric guitar playing of Brian Sulpizio, Walker sat on a stool, bent over his guitar in concentration, often swiveling his whole body back and forth in a physical manifestation of the trance-like musical groove that they conjured up together. Following a seven-minute instrumental introduction, Walker slid gracefully into “On the Banks of the Old Kishawaukee,” which proved to be the most traditional sounding selection of his hour-long set. It was, however, hardly traditional.
One night before Bob Dylan turned 73 years old, Michael Hurley (a.k.a. Elwood Snock) played a $10 concert to a packed house at the Half Moon in Hudson.
The 72-year-old Hurley, whose First Songs was released on the legendary Folkways label 50 years ago, turned the dive bar full of 20-somethings into a hushed coffee house. “All of you shush up just awhile,” said Hurley before he launched into “The Revenent,” where he pronounced his truest lyrics of the night, “I am invincible, and I will survive.” Beyond all else, Michael Hurley is a fiercely independent counterculture survivalist. He is the Bear Grylls of freak-folk.
Like his better-known contemporary Mr. Zimmerman, Hurley’s legendary past doesn’t quite mean his live performance is life-altering. If you saw him busking on the street, you’d know he’d been at it a long time and you’d throw him a couple bucks, but you probably wouldn’t sign him to your record label before checking his pedigree (which includes a close association with the Holy Modal Rounders, and the Youngbloods) and taking a second listen to his seemingly simple lyrics.
Where Dylan’s live singing voice has deteriorated to a croak, Hurley’s is still recognizably endearing, though tonality was never his bag either. Hurley is at his best when he gets into the high register and lets his voice slip into an almost-tuneful falsetto as it did in the aptly-titled opener “Open Up.” Playing his hollow-body guitar through a borrowed amp, Hurley’s singular front-porch picking is epitomized by the single-note bass runs and licks that he turned out all night long.
The Sazerac. It may be America’s oldest cocktail. Astringent; sweetly bitter, but not bittersweet; and with the ghost of absinthe floating through its finish.
They serve a good Sazerac at Hudson’s Half Moon. It’s the right drink for Michael Hurley’s music, bracing, but hazily psychedelic; wooden yet electric.
Hurley was in the house at the Half Moon on Friday, singing to a considerably larger complement than he had in previous Friendly City visits at John Doe Records and the Hudson River Theater. John Doe owner, Dan “Bunnybrains” Seward — effectively Hurley’s Hudson booking agent — was there to let everyone know it, too, barking about the fourteen fans at the original early-aughts tour stop.
Now 72, Hurley plopped himself down in a wooden chair at the Half Moon, following opening sets by Metal Mountains and Tara Jane O’Neil. A few songs in, he was joined by Pittsfield guitarist and songwriter Wes Buckley, who immediately found the curiously funky Hurley pocket and never left it.
Nashville garage-punk trio Cheap Time played Hudson’s Half Moon last month, a newly re-opened space that balances hipster and dive-bar elements in just the right measures. The revamped 1940s-style neighborhood bar with glass-brick accents was the perfect setting for a production by CAVESTOMP!, the well-known New York City garage rock “festacular” that has migrated north to host monthly Half Moon shows.
DJ Peter Aaron (of the Chrome Cranks) set the stage for Cheap Time by playing their punk forebears – the Stooges, the Dictators, the Dead Boys – while DJ Jeff the Chef started the spinning with 45s of old-school soul enlivened by tasty videos of hot-stepping dancers from old musical flicks, curated by VJ Spike Priggen.
NAME: Jonny Phillip
BAND AFFILIATION: Trapper Schoepp & the Shades and also Tommy Stinson. Was also the drummer for Southern California rock band Limbeck
1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS … First album I ever bought was Def Leppard’s Hysteria on cassette when I was eight years old. I thought Rick Allen was the coolest drummer because he had just one arm. I used to tuck my left arm into my shirt and practice drums on my living room chair with just one stick. That’s before I had a drum set.
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