Tracing the lineage and citing the fore-bearers of the New Weird America, one can’t help but mention the music of bizarre folk singer/guitarist/artist Michael Hurley. If you haven’t been following his career since the 1970’s (when he was collaborating with the likes of the Holy Modal Rounders and Jesse Colin Young) then you probably discovered him in the past couple of years via Devendra Banhart’s & Andy Cabic’s label Gnomonsong, who have released Hurley’s recent recordings.
Hurley’s debut album, First Songs, was recorded for Folkways Records in 1965 on the same reel-to-reel machine that taped Lead Belly’s Last Sessions. He was discovered by blues and jazz historian Frederick Ramsey III, and subsequently championed by boyhood friend Jesse Colin Young, who released Hurley’s next two album on The Youngbloods’ Warner Brother’s imprint, Raccoon. How’s that for cred?
In the 1970s, Hurley made three albums for Rounder Records; Have Moicy! (1975), Long Journey(1976), and Snockgrass (1980) which after being out of print for decades are now being reissued on Light In The Attic Records.
Since relocating to Oregon in the early 2000s Michael Hurley does not play on the east coast as often as in decades past. At the same time his reputation has been soaring with a number of releases on illustrious labels like Mississippi and Davendra Banhard's Gnomonsong. Last year, after 50 years of rambling and spreading his unique brand of Snockgrass, Michael finally returned to the East Coast for a few shows.
"Undoubtedly one of this country's greatest folk singers, Hurley has
little in common with the majority of today's folk performers. While
they seem bent on demonstrating that all people are alike, such a
suffocating presumption has no place in this man's work. Michael Hurley
is nothing like his potential audience. What better reason to hear what
he has to say?"
- Chuck Cuminale
"...I don’t know what else to say about what he writes and sings, other
than that it is gosh-darned great. What kind of music is it? Hell, what
kind of weeds does God grow? Let's just shut up and listen and go to
where Michael Hurley is. After all, we can always turn around and come
back. He can't."
- Nick Tosches
"Hurley is a national treasure"
- Scott Schinder / Time Out New York
"Michael Hurley is the last unreconstructed folkie-shaman in America.
His songs are primordial tales of the hunt for good cheer and satisfying
sex, etched like cave paintings on city walls and farmland silos. Like
many characters in his songs, his voice seems to have been run over by
the dump truck of life, but it marries human mystery to forthright music
like no other."
- Milo Miles
"Whether weaving a yarn about a mysterious hog or comparing the human
heart to a mechanic's toolbox, Mr. Hurley create(s) elaborate vistas in
a musical version of outsider art"
- Ann Powers / New York Times
"Hurley remains one of the elusive masters of American folk"
- Chris Morris / Billboard
"Trusting in his own peculiarities, Hurley makes the world spin just a
little bit slower, and a little bit bumpier. Somehow it feels much more
natural that way."
- Jim Macnie
"Somehow, thinking of Hurley, I find myself thinking also of Samuel
Beckett. Now I don't see Hurley having much truck with the modernist
strain of 20th Century art, and, as a high school dropout, he would
probably be nauseated by the gasbag spewings of the ivory tower
intellectual. A true and deliberate neo-primitive, his inspiration
springs from nature, the rural blues and the lure of remote hills and
woodlands, landscapes that loom in the backgrounds of his comics like
vast parabolic gumdrops."
- Vernon Tonges
"Well, I can say once when we split a gig in New York in the `70s, he
introduced me as "...not only a Senor, but a Monsieur." So, ladies and
gentlemen, I give you Michael Hurley, not only a Senor, but a Monsieur,
a Herr, an American Original, and the ne plus ultra of Pearly
Snockgrass.Or, as the great `50s DJ whose name I cannot recall would
have said, "Cats and Kitties, I give you Michael Hurley, than which
there is none whicher."
- Peter Stampfel /Holy Modal Rounders