The typewritten record catalogs sent out by musician-dealer Paul Major in the ‘80s and ‘90s were full of listings for obscure private press albums that he fondly called “real people” records. How would you like a mixtape of such rarities? A companion to the book Feel the Music, a memoir of record collecting that includes a generous sampling of old catalogs written in a sometimes-vivid stream of consciousness, Major has compiled this album of some of his favorite tracks. Even if you’re familiar with such likeminded projects as Enjoy the Experience, you’ll make a lot of new discoveries here. But if the book is fairly essential for the record collector’s shelf, the music is less so.
Leaning to the psychedelic end of the real-people spectrum, the compilation opens with “The Travesty of My life,” originally released in 1973 by Tom Lonergan and Buddy Kelly. With primitive rhythm guitar but an impassioned lead vocal and more blistering lead guitar, this is kind of a mission statement for the album, the musical elements inconsistent but genuinely inspired. Ray Harlowe and Gyp Fox are backed by indifferent female singers on “Run,” but this is the kind of music where off-kilter rhythms and less-than-proficient guitar adds up to something where the struggle is more successful than precision would be. Think of this conundrum as the difference between The Disaster Artist and The Room; while the former may be the more competent movie, the latter, despite its rank amateurism, is the more profound work of art.
Much of this material sounds like it was recorded in a garage, but such tracks as Justyn Rees’s “Behold” signify higher ambition with a string section; on the other hand, one Fat Daddy fronts the Yays & Nays with an Elvis impersonation on “Let It All Hang Out,” the closest the album comes to lounge territory.
Feel the Music offers such brooding loner folk as the Joint Effort’s “Blue Lightning” from 1971, on which acoustic guitars and a lonesome harmonica are occasionally accompanied by the sounds of seagulls. Bob Edmund’s “Saturday Thought” is one of the album’s most vivid psychedelic tracks; first released in 1970, it rides what Major calls a “menacing organ” that’s little more than a primitive pulse, but it’s inspired amateurism. Much stranger is the heavily reverberating “Denied,” from Jerry Solomon’s 1971 album Past the 20th Century. Marcus’ “Captain Zella Queen,” a 1979 track that’s one of the latest on the album, pulls off the neat trick of turning “Free Bird” into a space-rock freak out.
Like many private press recordings, these tracks are raw and often untutored, its artists frequently ignoring basic musical tenets of chord structure and sometimes tuning. This is exactly what makes “real people” records exciting and unpredictable, but it also makes many such records unlistenable to audiences raised on mainstream commercial pop. Anyone who enjoys the thrill of the hunt for ever more obscure private press records will eat up Feel the Music, in both book and record form, but for many the book will be better than the record; it can be more fun to read about these records than to listen to them.
Buy it here.