'Sligo River Blues' has always been my favourite song on John Fahey's Blind Joe Death (1959), the album which defined a new genre: American primitivism. Other rivers flowed through his subsequent work: 'Sunflower River Blues', 'On the Banks of the Owchita', 'Revelation on the Banks of the Pawtuxent' (all feature on the recent Four Men With Beards compilation, The Transcendental Waterfall: Guitar Excursions 1962-1967). I'm not sure how important landscape was for Fahey but a sense of place is evident in a lot of the music he put out on Takoma Records. His friend Robbie Basho, who made his Takoma debut in 1965, was, like the Beat writers, inspired to transplant aspects of Asian culture, including the ragas of Ravi Shankar. Landscape obviously inspired songs like Song of the Snowy Ranges, Rocky Mountain Raga and Green River Suite, although I must admit I do find his singing a bit hard going. After Robbie Basho's untimely death in 1986 (following a freak chiropractor accident) his mantle was assumed by the East German guitarist Steffan Basho-Junghans. This passing on of the name might seem less of an affectation if you bear in mind that the original Bashō only assumed this haigō (haiku name) in 1680 after disciples planted for him a bashō (banana tree). The video clip below is an interview with Steffan Basho-Junghans in which he talks about the importance of nature and mountain landscapes for his music and painting.
One of the most prominent figures in the revival of American primitivism over the last decade has been Glenn Jones, whose new record My Garden State I've been listening to this week. It was written on extended trips to look after his mother in northern New Jersey, where he grew up. The album begins and ends with 'field recordings of insect chorus and chimes, evoking baking hot days in the burgeoning fields of a market farm' (Nick Southgate in The Wire). The tune Jones plays with Laura Baird in the clip below is named after the Tappan Zee bridge that spans the Hudson River. Other tracks are based on specific experiences, as Grayson Currin explains in Pitchfork: ''The Vernal Pool', for instance, is an improvisation Jones played shortly after Baird showed him the farm habitat of spadefoot toads, which use the “spades” of their feet to dig into their subterranean lairs for a season’s rest. When it rains in the spring, they dig their way out and become “explosive breeders.” Jones saw the toads in the fall, when they still lurked underground. This piece starts with listless hibernation, his slow notes languishing inside their own decay. Across its five minutes, though, it builds into a bustle, with a thumbed bass line muscling its way through a raga-like flurry of sound. Even at its most vibrant and vivid, 'The Vernal Pool' reveals a constant vein of anxiety, as if to acknowledge at once the world’s forever-chained wonder and worry while celebrating it, too.'