Adam Pokorski and Matt Jackson, proprietors of Missing Link Records, are passionate about music, and not just records, live music too. When I asked them for a list of their favorite records of 2009, they chose their "favorite 24-year-old purveyor of old time feelings," Frank Fairfield, for the top of the list. That was in part because of his eponymous debut for Tompkins Square Records, but also because they'd heard him play his old time music at a show last fall at Persimmons Gallery in Redway, the same night another of their faves, Pokey LaFarge, was playing in Garberville at Cecil's. (Of course they got the two of them together.)
Their admiration for Fairfield is shared by the esteemed rock critic Greil Marcus, who describes Frank as, "A young Californian who sings and plays as someone who's crawled out of the Virginia mountains carrying familiar songs that in his hands sound forgotten: broken lines, a dissonant drone, the fiddle or the banjo all percussion, every rising moment louder than the one before it."
Fairfield has been getting a fair amount of attention of late, in part due to the new album, but also because of a recent opening slot on a tour by indie rockers Fleet Foxes. By all accounts none of it has gone to his head -- he's as unassuming as ever. "Authentic" is a word that often comes up in descriptions of the man and his music.
Last time I visited the record shop, Matt would not let me go until I'd watched a few YouTube videos of Frank in action: one where he's picking "Nine Pound Hammer," on banjo on some front porch, and another where he's playing "Old Dan Tucker" on his fiddle in a tent outside an Austin museum. Somehow his songs avoid becoming museum-pieces -- they're lively and vibrant -- but I have to agree with Mr. Marcus: The way he sings and plays his crooked music, you'd think the porch vid could have been recorded decades ago somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains.
In fact, Fairfield was born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley and mostly learned tunes from old 78s. As John Tottenham reports in the record's liner notes, "He speaks of his grandfather leaving Texas to pick crops around the country, a constant traveler, a musician, who eventually 'got religion' and settled in Kettleman City, Kings County as a pastor. Dust storms, tumbleweeds, cotton crops... this imagery has been richly cultivated in Fairfield's young mind. Somewhere along the road Frank Fairfield finds himself and begins to play his grandfather's old fiddle, picks up the banjo and gitbox, and starts playing the tunes of old with great conviction, learning many songs from the collection of rural gramophone records he has hungrily hunted down."
On My Old Kentucky Blog, Fairfield discusses "Nine Pound Hammer," explaining that it's "one of the variants or rather offshoots of tunes surrounding the story of John Henry: the steel driving song... This is the only tune with such quick banjo playing on it, a type of three finger fitting of my own, tuned quite particularly to the key of D."
By now you're either thinking, who needs all this old music, or you're wondering when you might get a chance to hear Frank Fairfield play. His next local appearance is on Jan. 11, for Jambalaya's Monday Night Budget Rock series. That's a misnomer since he most definitely does not play rock. I'll be there.
Since I'm Facebook friends with dance concert promoter/bartender/esthetician and "relentless Bass Bunny" Laura, I'm invited to Marc and Laura's Engagement Party on Friday, and as far as I can tell, so are you, since it's a public event at the Red Fox Tavern. The to-be-betrothed are dedicated Deep Groove Society peeps, so Team BunnyBear is celebrating with some thumpin' DJs: J-Sun, The Middle Agent, MastaShredda, Simple and Mike D among them. Dance on!
Friday is Arts! Arcata night: Arte Brown plays liquid guitar at Plaza Design providing a soundtrack for Jackie Oshiro's watercolors. Greg Willis plays music and Jay Brown shows "new works for the new year" at Arcata Exchange. Rose Armin-Hoiland sings torch songs with backing by the 24/7 Jazz Trio at the Arcata Theatre Lounge. Duncan Burgess plays guitar at Libation where Tony Gonsalves' landscape photography is on display.
A Thousand Years at Sea is a folk/rock/Celtic combo out of New York City escaping the snowy eastern weather for a West Coast winter tour that brings them to Mosgo's Friday, Jan. 8. While ATYAS is normally a trio, just fiddler Ethan Lewis and guitarist Colin Cotter made the westward journey this time. But that's OK, they're the songwriters on the band's new CD, Silver Shores Await.
The extremely flamboyant Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Abbey of the Big Red Wood is starting off 2010 with something they call Beach Blanket Bingo, although it bears no relation to the B.B. Babylon show with big hats that's been running forever in Frisco. No, this "night of tropical splendor" at the Bayside Grange on Saturday, Jan. 9, features drag queens and bingo (and prizes for the best tropical attire). Sister Fawn invites you to, "Come escape the rainy winter doldrums!" As always with Sisters events, it's a benefit, this time for local homeless service agencies, specifically Arcata House, All Faith Partnership for Shelter and North Coast Resource Center (formerly known as the Arcata Endeavor).
The Aughts were a time when borders between genres dissolved. Describing a band's sound became more difficult as band's defined themselves in terms like " folk/rock/Celtic," and blues, country, rock, jazz, etc. all blend together. I'll admit to over-reliance on adding the tried-and-true "alt." prefix to all of the above (and I'll probably continue using it). One of my favorite local alt. something bands, Strix Vega, is out to have fans come up with some sort of category for their music. (They once told me they were a " folk/indie/rock band.") Here's a note they sent out: "Hello friends. If you're interested in winning tickets to Strix Vega's show at The Alibi on Jan. 16, here's what you can do: Email your description of the Strix Vega sound to Strix Vega (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Jan 11. Voting will be open to you, our friends and fans. The creator of the description of the Strix Vega sound that gets the most votes by Jan. 15, wins a pair of free tickets to see Strix Vega live at the Alibi." Not sure what they sound like? You can hear them this Saturday night when they play at Brad's Capricorn Bash at the Red Fox with a revived version of B-Swizlo's Acid Jazz Experiment.
If by chance you pick this paper up on Wednesday, Jan. 6, you'll still have time to catch a show we did not know about last week: a return engagement at Nocturnum by guitarist James Hunnicutt. Formerly of Wayne "The Train" Hancock's band, Hunnicut plays a rootsy, ballsy mix of country and rock. He's still touring behind his All By My Lonesome album, and still doing so all alone.
At the end of last week's little Humboldt scene history lesson I wondered if there were any places I forgot. Richard C. Brown of Eureka notes one place I missed: "Jon's Place (now closed) a few doors down from The Playroom in Fortuna. He had a coin-operated karaoke machine, where budding karaoke singers could practice their craft before hitting the big time at Brogi's Boiler Room." I actually remember Jon's Place from shooting photos for a Journal story by Arno Holschuh ("So You Want to Be a Star?" Aug. 23, 2001). As I recall, Rumours was the karaoke hot spot back then. Any more memories?