Over the past 10 years or so, Tompkins Square’s indispensable Imaginational Anthem series has introduced listeners to the cream of the crop when it comes to the 21st century’s neo-Takoma School players. The latest volume, however, takes us back a few decades for a deep dig into the dusty world of private press guitar soli from the 60s, 70s and 80s. While there’s been no shortage of archival releases from this zone in recent years, the players here are extremely obscure. Un-Google-able until now, for the most part.
Of course, obscurity doesn’t equal quality. Don’t worry: the compilers here (collectors Michael Klausman and Brooks Rice, along with Tompkins Square honcho Josh Rosenthal) have expertly chosen songs that don’t land in the “rare-for-a-reason” category. Above all, The Private Press is extremely listenable. It flows magnificently from start to finish.
The knee-jerk reflex is to point to Fahey, Basho, Kottke and Bull when casting about for comparisons — and those dudes do loom large occasionally. But each track feels more like listening in on an artist’s own personal universe, whether it’s the wild electric modalities of Joe Bethancourt’s “Raga,” the bells-plus-12-string reverie of Herb Moore’s “Wen Also Found,” or the spiraling beauty of Tom Armstrong’s “White Pines.” The “private” of The Private Press starts to feel less like a reference to limited quantities of pressed vinyl and more like a kind of aesthetic descriptor. We’re lucky we get to listen in … words / t wilcox