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First Songs

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iTunes Review

It’s no secret that the current freak-folk crop (Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Espers, and many more) owe some of their best musical and lyrical riffs to the inventive spirit of East Village folk originator Michael Hurley; but still Hurley remains something of a shadowy figure, name-dropped rather than listened to, acknowledged rather than appreciated. Those curious to discover what all of the fuss is about need look no further than this, his breathtaking Folkways debut. Recorded shortly after he emerged from the same Bellevue convalescent ward where Woody Guthrie spent his last days, First Songs sees the history of American Roots Music filtered through a lens of wanderlust-addled beatitude. From the primal mythmaking of “Werewolf” (covered later to great effect by Cat Power) to the opiate tinged loner’s anthem “Tea Song,” the songs of Hurley’s debut burn with an incantatory power undiminished by the passage of decades. Though Hurley was just twenty-three when these recordings were made he seems to sing from centuries of experience, delivering ballads of itinerant desperation and visionary insight with a voice that recalls the ageless rasp of balladeers like Dock Boggs and Dave Macon. First Songs is a matchless slice of skewed Americana and a true keystone of contemporary roots music.

Customer Reviews

A Permanent Solution to Recurrent Problems

Between warbled bird-like singing and stripped down finger-style guitar, Hurley makes both his humor and his integrity as a songwriter known. His lyrical approach is by and large straightforward and devoid of arcane references, or any other dirty little words that could tether his songs in time. I find his music to be the perfect salve for modern ails. One can't help but want to go fishing, drink whisky, make love--generally enjoy one's life after a listen through. A fine collection, and an absolute necessity for some of us moodier folk.


Cool stuff, nice to listen to when you just want to just kick back and pound a couple beers.


Born: December 20, 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...
Full Bio