Virgil Caine

May 12, 2012

Virgil Caine

s/t (Fulcrum 1971)

http://www.mediafire.com/?bp5l6qqjn81xtj8

Most music junkies eventually fall into the trap of unjustly glorifying obscurity for the sake of diving headlong into something new to them.  It’s understandable since the internet has made it all too easy to paint oneself into a corner when downpours of discographies rain down upon the eager like manna from heaven. I come from the last gasps of a time when neglected classics were unattainable unless you had the good fortune to have an elder sage to take you by the hand and make cassette copies or burn a cd and pay it forward to the next generation. Thankfully, my social circles were populated by a few of these altruistic punks, hippies and burnouts and my eyes were opened to artists like Skip Spence, Ted Lucas and Michael Hurley that expanded my horizons beyond the indie rock cul de sac I inhabited. As I obsessively dug deeper and deeper into the cavalcade of wounded souls that recorded in the 60s and 70s, I found myself falling into the aforementioned trap of blindly embracing the obscure and viewed too many flawed albums through rose-colored glasses. I guess I became so addicted to the initial rush one gets when an album immediately embraces you and shakes your hand like an old friend at first listen. I just wanted all of them to be my companion and spent too much time justifying their faults.

However, I recently discovered Virgil Caine’s s/t debut and it sparked the same sense of awe and familiarity that the aforementioned artists once inspired in me and reminded me why music encompasses so much of my life. It is one of those small, but transcendent moments in life when you stumble upon such greatness and realize that you haven’t heard a damn word about in it’s forty year existence and it was just lying around unloved for so long until now.

There is no one named Virgil Caine in this trio. The name is borrowed from the protagonist in The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” which is fitting since their music is indebted to Dylan and The Band and sometimes reminds me a bit of a loopy, southern gothic cousin to The Velvet Underground’s minus all the pretensions. Honestly, drain all the bombast and grandeur from all three, mix it up in a pot and it kind of sounds like Virgil Caine.

What makes Virgil Caine more than a likable footnote in the annals of 70s folk and private press oddities is the Appalachian drawl and literary knack of guitarist and vocalist Roger Mannon who paints  a southern tableau populated with swamp witches, environmental destruction, small towns where everyone is welcome at the dinner table and mischievous barn cats who raise havoc to a Vaudeville soundtrack.  It’s an absurdist slice of the south depicted in the most endearing way possible as Mannon pays tribute to an America where pagans hide in the shadows and organized religion demands blind allegiance. Yet, Mannon romanticizes the concept of genteel southern hospitality and its genial smile as many of his songs glorify the humility and helping hands that drive the small towns that litter the landscape of his songs.

Just listen to the opener “The Great Lunar Oil Strike, 1976” and you gain immediate entry into Mannon’s sincere, yet tongue in cheek lyrical bent. Centered around a sloppily strummed guitar and messier backbeat, it’s a biting and bitterly sardonic commentary on the oil industry that is eerily prescient of what was to come in the future. It might be the first recorded protest against deep sea drilling and exploitation of the American wilderness by big business. It fittingly ends with the coda”You just can’t see the moon at night” as Mannon describes an America that doomed to be subjugated by its industrial master. It’s as timely today as it was in 1971.

However, my favorite song on Virgil Caine is “Swamp Witch” as Mannon cooks up some imaginary southern mythology about a swamp witch who beckons visitors with promises of armadillo meat and a place to lay your weary head in the mire. Mannon speaks of his desire to learn the voodoo arts, but has his mind torn apart and falls under the spell of this enchantress. These spoken word interludes are always broken up by a bewitching chorus celebrating this swap witch until Mannon jumps back in to depict the swamp an elemental force that has the power to literally rend him limb from limb. It all sounds so sinister if you listen to the lyrics, but the vibe of the song is so relaxing and inviting as if it were a song from a siren itself.

Ultimately, Virgil Caine’s one and only album is one of those rare albums that give birth to its own insular universe populated by a cast of paranoid crackpots, broken hearts, kind souls and simple folks who aim for nothing more than doing right thing in a world full of wrong. I revisit it often since each song is like a vignette that I want to obsessively read over and over again and linger upon each syllable and chorus.

 

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Ted Lucas-s/t

August 13, 2008

Ted Lucas

s/t (Om 1976)

http://www.divshare.com/download/5166781-daf

Since this was sent to me earlier this year, I have listened to this album incessantly. It sort of is an imaginary link between the beautiful bummers of Skip Spence’s Oar with the nimble fingerwork of the Takoma label, especially John Fahey and early Leo Kottke. It is a fantastical description, but an apt one in my incredibly biased opinion. I love how the beginning of the album leads you to believe its all gonna be some fell good instrumental folk jamboree, but then he gets into some really spooky pop songs that sounds like some dirty backwoods drugs and heavenly harmonies. Raga folk gets married to some really emotionally devastating shit that makes me want to know a lot more about this guy’s life and what led him to create such a gorgeous, but emotionally damaged album. There seems to be a desire to get away from it all and retreat into himself and his odes to drinking and smoking weed aren’t celebratory, but kind of a plea for a better place.

On a purely musical and puerile level, I get a big old kick out of the slow-motion bliss of his pot smoking anthem “It’s So Nice to Get Stoned.” On one hand, it’s an angelic ode to the joys of smoking weed to get away from the daily grind, but within the context of the album, it can also be interpreted as an ode to sedating your personal demons with weed. I guess the dark side of the song mated with the bleary-eyed lyrics of flying into the heavens like an eagle make it somehow perfect to me.

The next song “Baby Where You Are” is another mixed message. It is a romantic sentiment about a wish for a reunion with a lover, but there is a creeping sense that obsession is somehow involved in the relationship as he wants to see, think and be wherever this beloved baby may be in this godforsaken world.

Man, I could ramble about this one for a lot longer, but I feel very bad about not posting for a week due to my thesis and I want to post some more music tonight. However, this is what all “forgotten” albums hyped to the heavens should sound like. I also love how he is tapping into Skip Spence and After Bathing at Baxters era Jefferson Airplane and Takoma in 1976. It probably was an anomaly at the time of its release, but really deserves the simple action of a download so he can get some of the respect he deserves.