Michael Hurley is nothing if not reliable. Every few years since his debut in 1964, he has released another collection of homemade pieces from where he was resting his head. Each album follows the same path as the last – absurd tales sung with wise conviction, folk standards that should have been, and honest standards with God in their most seedy outfits – but that doesn’t matter. Hurley steadfastly follows his own compass, always pointed slightly askew of true north, and does what he does with the daily dedication of a craftsman. His songs often contain brilliant flashes, but it is his consistency that makes him such a remarkable figure and a hero in the counter-cultural folk milieu.
As such, despite its upgrade in fidelity, diversity of instrumentation and a leap to a more established label, The digital age is not an attempt to usher in a late renaissance. It always has been, even during times when less attention was paid to his later recordings. Digital is as charming and insightful as any Hurley album, and it radiates intimacy and comfort even with a long list of contributors. He is joined by several other singers, notably JosÃ©phine Foster, and each duet feels like a conversation between old friends. Moving her business from her living room in Astoria, Oregon and into a professional studio did nothing to diminish the rustic feel of her music; Hurley has always recorded his parts on the same four tracks he has used for years, and the first sound you hear before the soft strum of the acoustic guitar is the warm whistle of the band.
Creature comforts and good times dominate the songs on Digital. There is the shared glow of having a drink with a close confidant (“Beer, beer and wine”), the joy of a late night date with a lover (“Love is the closest thing”) and the warmth of returning to his homeland (a dilapidated revival of âAlabamaâ by the Louvin brothers). Even when Hurley sings of painful ordeals, like on âAre You Here For the Festival,â which opens with inquiries into a broken heart, he is tempered by the promise of a full belly and good music. Last year Hurley described himself as “ruthless, callous, mean, mean” but listening to these songs it’s hard to imagine a rotten word passing his lips. All we get here is his soft, age-worn tenor begging to be left alone in grief as he admires the raw beauty of the Oregon Forest.
This particular reflection takes place on “Lush Green Trees”, an unhurried number that trots between folk and jazz, joining Hurley’s lone guitar to a bass clarinet that carefully swings and dances around his muffled voice. Although all the songs on Digital are also slow, enough to give almost the whole affair (especially the second half) a languid, dreamy quality. The instrumental “Knocko the Monk” features Hurley on the banjo tracing a spare, nasal melody over a buzzing pump organ bed. Even the devious “Se Fue en la Noche”, the song that most closely resembles the most popular work of its’ 70s heyday, is easygoing and low-key. Thankfully, Hurley’s songwriting is original enough to keep the album from falling asleep, as it slyly zigzags between limp and slanted versions of bluegrass, country, and blues.
Listening to a new Michael Hurley album is like sinking into a well-worn sofa cushion; we’ve been here before, but that doesn’t mean it’s less satisfying than the last dozen or so times we’ve unloaded at this exact spot. Up to the hand-painted cover, Digital adapts to the mold and descends smoothly. Even as he nears 80, Hurley’s ability to synthesize different strains of traditional American music and twist them to fit his own idiosyncratic outlook is sharper than ever, and the ease of it all is testament to many years. of practicality and refinement. Just because the sun sets every day doesn’t make today’s sunset any less spectacular.
Buy: Crude Trade
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