Michael Hurley Ida Con Snock
(Gnomonsong Records, 2009)
Michael Hurley might be our least-known American treasure. But you sure can’t fault the veteran folk singer-songwriter for that: Ida Con Snock, recorded partly at Levon Helm’s Woodstock digs and featuring the younger but like-minded local outfit Ida, is at least his 20th album (tracking musicians like Hurley can be an inexact science) since he emerged in the mid ’60s. Since then, the creative outlaw nicknamed Snock has blazed a trail of remarkable consistency and unpolished quality through American culture, not just musically but as a bona fide roots character as well (drawing comics, riding the rails, collaborating with underground icons such as Greenwich Village freak Peter Stampfel).
There’s nothing about Ida Con Snock to recommend it to fans that already have a pile of Hurley records, save for its low-light glow, its irrepressibly human feeling, and its outright Snockness. Ida backs him hand in glove, with spare, intuitive arrangements and Elizabeth Mitchell’s achingly pretty backing vocals—when she enters on “Wildegeeses,” one of the album’s highlights, it’ll give you warm chills. Hurley shows signs of graceful aging in his voice, which has always been softly graveled (except when he yodels), but he’s hardly been better; childlike whimsy (the call and response on “Hoot Owls”) and deep, knowing poignancy (“I Stole the Right to Live” and the sweet come-on “The Time Is Right”) are often separated by just the creak in his voice. Yeah, old fans need this, and those yet to be acquainted can easily start their affair with Hurley here. www.gnomonsong.com/michaelhurley