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Ancestral Swamp

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Album Review

Michael Hurley's music hadn't changed much in the 40-odd years between his first recordings and this 2007 release. In Hurley's case, however, that's a good thing; you wouldn't want his brand of rustic yet eccentric folk to get slick or diluted, and it's not exactly as if he's been overexposed on disc over the course of his lengthy career. This is relaxed, earthy eclectic folk with a sitting-on-the-porch feel, the recording so sparse that you often feel as though you're listening to a solo or nearly solo performance, though in fact three other musicians do help out multi-instrumentalist Hurley over the course of the record. Although it's grounded in traditional Americana type acoustic folk, it's not reverently traditionalist, adding touches like gutbucket tremolo electric guitar on "Dying Crapshooter's Blues," electric piano on "Lonesome Graveyard," and (on "El Dorado") almost subliminal backup vocals by Tara Jane O'Neil. Hurley sings his tunes with a wizened voice and an off-the-cuff narrative flavor, but it's more structured and cogent material than that of many other (usually younger) folky musicians whose songs owe something to a stream-of-consciousness sort of style. American folk idioms were so deeply etched into Hurley's DNA by the time of this recording that it's not possible to pigeonhole him into any one or two of them; certainly there's some Delta blues, but there's also some country and Appalachian music, none of the forms taking particular supremacy over others. This is the kind of music you'd love to hear on a lazy night after a full home-cooked meal; it's comfortable and homey, but at the same time accomplished and thoughtful despite its casual air, emanating unforced, ingratiating charm.


Born: 20 December 1941 in Buck's County, PA

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A singer/songwriter in the subversive Greenwich Village folk scene of the late '60s and '70s, with several songs lent to the Holy Modal Rounders, Michael Hurley maintained an infrequent solo career into the '90s but was more famed for his writing credits. Born on December 20, 1941 in Pennsylvania, he migrated to Greenwich Village by the early '60s and was ready to sign a major record deal when he contracted mononucleosis; after spending several years in the hospital, Hurley returned to music and...
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Ancestral Swamp, Michael Hurley
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