Music nerds can’t get enough of privately pressed folk records. At a time where very few musical stones have been left unturned, very few crates left undug, there are still many self-released folk records waiting to be heard. Released in small runs at the time, these gems sit in boxes at the back of garages or on the racks of remote thrift stores.
It isn’t the scarcity alone that makes this genre appealing. It’s DIY music with a human touch. Rooms echo in the background, instruments are mic’d up in weird ways and notes are occasionally missed. The covers have a distinct personality too, displaying home photos and self-made art. These are artifacts of people’s creativity and human expression, which can often feel more profound than anything found in mainstream releases.
Sometimes termed “outsider folk music”, tracks by artists like Linda Perhacs, Moby Grape and Arlo Guthrie display a kind of music from the margins. Themes like the mind, the sky, and the road seem to crop up regularly and, listening, you can’t help but be swept up in cinematic images of the long empty highways and the sun setting over some quiet corner of the world. The musicians are often self-taught, and the DIY nature of the recordings seems to add to the psychedelic atmosphere of the music, making it feel ethereal and otherworldly. There was, of course, also a lot of LSD floating around during the late 60s period when much of the music was made.
Many of the albums in this playlist come with a story that only adds to their appeal. Like that of Gary Higgins’s beautiful and meditative album Red Hash. Recorded in the days running up to a 13 month prison sentence, Higgins had recently been arrested trying to sell 160 ounces of weed to an undercover police officer. There’s also the story of Becky Severson’s incredible track “A Special Path”, which is one shared by many artists within this playlist. Based on a passage from the bible, Severson wrote and recorded the song at the age of 19. The release was financed by her brother-in-law, with most of the 1000 copies being given to friends and members of the church. Those that remained, were stored away and not given much thought, that is until the reissue labels came knocking.
Music that was only heard by a select few at the time is now being enjoyed by many. These outsider musicians have become unlikely heroes and heroines in the face of today’s commercialised music industry. They made music for the love of it and gave it away to anyone willing to listen. They played over loud chatter in cafes, in the backrooms of pubs and to people passing by on the street. Now, they’ve found their audience.