PICK OF THE WEEK
Mark Fosson - Digging in the Dust: Home Recordings 1976
Why: Ashland, Kentucky, native Mark Fosson is one of the best acoustic pickers since his hero and mentor John Fahey. This collection of never-before-heard demos brings us early versions of what became Drag City's The Lost Takoma Sessions and some other bonus goodies. If you've never listened to acoustic solo guitar, this is a good guy to start with. Available from Tompkins Square
Mark Fosson: Press
Mark Fosson's The Lost Takoma Sessions seemed to be the definitive statement on his earliest work upon its release in 2006, but then again, before the studio work there had to have been something around that caught John Fahey's ear to start with. Digging in the Dust: Home Recordings 1976 is just that, collecting performances of many but not all the songs that were eventually re-recorded for Takoma, along with an otherwise unavailable recording in the shape of Gene Autry's classic "Back in the Saddle Again," like everything else here done in strictly instrumental form. Given the reputation for home recordings in the 20th century as being the home of murk and sometimes intentional imperfection, the crystalline sound throughout is evidence enough that Fosson wasn't messing around with his two-track reel-to-reel. But beyond the technical evidence, it's little wonder hearing Fosson's skilled work song for song that Fahey showed an interest. If Fosson was clearly playing in a realm the older performer was not only inclined toward but to a large degree helped define -- Leo Kottke's early work being another unavoidable but understandable reference point -- there's both a sprightly passion and a clean elegance throughout the recordings here that's a treat to listen to on an almost tactile level. Hearing how he plays with melodies after having established them is a particular treat -- his twists toward the conclusion of "Back in the Saddle Again" are standouts here. Two songs come with alternate takes -- "Frozen Fingers," which sounds anything but that either way, has its key difference more in recording quality, the alternate sounding even more intimate and piercing; "Quarter Moon" has a similar division in its takes. It may seem unnecessary to explore further if one already has The Lost Takoma Sessions, but it's well worth a listen to hear such fine performances.
DIGGING IN THE DUST: Home Recordings 1976
As a young man in the mid-1970s, Mark Fosson was fascinated by American primitive guitar playing pioneered by John Fahey. On a whim, in 1976, he recorded a series of solo 12-string guitar demos in his living room and mailed the cassette to Fahey himself. Almost immediately, Fahey asked him out to LA to record the songs professionally, and Fosson did, but Takoma ran into financial troubles and the project was shelved. Not until 2006, some 30 years later, were Fosson's Lost Takoma Sessions released by Drag City. Meanwhile, Fosson had carved out a career in Americana-flavored songwriting and more or less put his 12-string picking experiment on hold.
If you're a guitar aficionado, you might wonder, hearing this story, exactly what it was that caught Fahey's ear, what qualities he could make out on this home-made demo that attested to Fosson's talent. Fortunately, you won't have to wonder any longer. Digging in the Dust is that demo tape, offering the songs from the Lost Takoma Sessions in their original one-mic, one-take purity, with no reverb at all, only the natural overtone haze of a 12-string. There's a sharp sense of the physical in these tracks - of sheer audible mechanics of the way that fingers slide and clamp on strings - but also a lovely, unpremeditated spirituality. He sounds like he's trying, and also that he's forgotten he's trying, in the way that complexity melts into sunlit prettiness.
Digging in the Dust revisits all but three cuts from the Lost Takoma Sessions (the first three, as it happens, "Jubilaya," "Wind Through a Broken Glass" and "Variations on a Thumb"), offers alternate versions of two ("Frozen Fingers" and "Quarter Moon") and adds a cover of Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again." This latter, the disc's only non-original, is particularly fluid and frisky, a bit of bluegrass showing through its country-blues licks, but it pales next to the album's best originals. "Gorilla Mountain" sets intricate picking onto deep shimmery drones, its melody tripping delicately over transparent layers of sustained guitar sounds. "Quarter Moon," performed here twice, intersperses sinuous bends into straight-laced, straight-up picking, its sudden swerves adding a wildness to the clock-ticking certainty of Fosson's playing. I like the second version best, a higher, more reverberant take on the melody, where the notes seem to bend and splinter into sweet sun-dappled atmospheres of tone. Fosson was, reportedly, trying out different tunings in nearly every song here, and this particular tuning seems to bring out the best in "Quarter Moon."
It is perhaps not really necessary to have another version of an already obscure 1970s recording, and if you bought The Lost Takoma Sessions, you've probably already got the gist of Fosson's talent. Still, there's something to be said for the freshness and purity of these songs, conceived out of love for a finger-picking genre, recorded as they were written and sent off to California in hope but not much expectation of success. This is music for its own sake, buried for decades, but somehow not in the slightest bit dusty.
"Sign him quick": Guitarist John Fahey, a folk-blues alchemist of high standards and no bullshit, wrote that in 1976 after hearing a demo by Mark Fosson, a Kentucky-born fingerpicker who soon cut an album for Fahey's Takoma Records. But Fahey was then forced to sell the label, and Fosson's LP went unreleased - until now. Three decades later, Fosson's precise delicacy and melodic inventions on THE LOST TAKOMA SESSIONS (Drag City) brightly confirm Fahey's original enthusiasm.
A minor revelation when this came out a few years ago, Mark Fosson's guitar stylings will definitely appeal to fans of John Fahey and Leo Kottke's instrumental work. A Kentucky native and son of a blues record collector, Fosson possessed the right background to produce the roots-inspired material that graces this album. It remained unreleased for nearly 30 years despite Fahey's initial enthusiasm for the project. After receiving a demo tape from Fosson, Takoma Records' head honcho authorized studio time for recording the album sometime in late 1976 or early 1977. Not long after the sessions were in the can, however, the label was sold to Chrysalis Records, and plans for the album were scrapped. Fahey gave the master tapes to Fosson, who had the foresight to keep them for posterity. And finally in 2006, these recordings saw the light of day. Obviously, Fosson is a damn good musician and displays a deft touch on his 12-string guitar throughout the proceedings. It would be pretty pointless to try to describe one great instrumental after another, so I won't. Although he's very much his own man, there are times where his playing is reminiscent of Fahey's, especially on tracks such as "Jubilaya," "Quarter Moon" and the remarkable "Gorilla Mountain." Other writers have noted the similarities of "All the Time in the World" and "Frozen Fingers" to the works of Leo Kottke, and I can't say that I disagree. In my opinion, the probing "Cosmic Hiccup" is The Lost Takoma Session's finest moment. All in all, this is music of a timeless beauty. Let it wash over you like a gentle ocean wave.
I knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about Fosson but one spin of his CD tells me that here is a major talent waiting to be discovered. To begin with Mark looks like a cross between Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Joe Ely and sounds just a tad like Hal Ketchum-in his higher vocal registers- but there the similarities end, because Fosson is clearly his own man with a clear musical direction. What really attracted me to "Jesus On A Greyhound" on first glimpse was it's instrumental lineup of mandolin, harmonica, dulcimer, banjo, spoons, accordion, harmonium, fiddle, dobro and Lisa O'Kane's and Sarah Coleman's backing vocals. This album proves to be yet another real country gem. Fosson proves to be a hugely gifted writer and if this is a debut album, then it deserves to set the proverbial fields on fire. There isn't a duff track to be found throughout a thirteen song selection, but I was particularly taken with "Day The Earth Stood Still", on which Mark uses the Appalachian mountain dulcimer as a strong rythym instrument. Fosson obviously has a lot of great ideas floating round his brain and if these 13 songs are anything to go by, then he has been touched by genius. There is an enormous amount of commercial potential here and I'd like to think that a few key country and folk DJs will latch on to "Jesus On A Greyhound" and make the whole project rewarding for Mark Fosson and his glorious team of musicians. Check him out via www.markfosson.com and find out how to purchase this excellent CD.
"I struggle to recall any recent comps that glide together as seamlessly as these Tompkins Square projects, and "Volume Three" is no exception. Contemplative, intricate, a simple but ornate school of folk that hangs effortlessly between the ancient and the avant-garde . . . I could listen to this stuff all day."
"Simply put, these are all essential recordings, they offer solid evidence of how the tradition continues from the '60s to the present day in the same way that albums by Fahey, Kottke, Crandell, Lang, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, and countless others picked up on the lineages of the previous decades from folk, blues, prison songs and mountain and church music foundations, and brought it forth, shifted and changed and added and subtracted. This box is the latest entry in the long long logbook. Get it." - 4.5 / 5 stars
"The single most significant body of solo acoustic guitar music to be published in the 21st century so far" - Boomkat
"Solo Acoustic Guitar music to get excited about"
Somewhere far away from the extraterrestrial tappings and slappings of exotic 12-stringers, Preston Reed and Michael Hedges, due west of Robbie Basho and perhaps with a side glance to former Takoma label mates, Leo Kottke and Peter Lang, Fosson, with every riff and each pluck and pick gets these transcendent muted tones and burnished resonance out of his 12-string, never dropping a dead-end cliche in the melody. Those early years opening for Fahey may have left lasting influence, maybe pushed him to bend and bar his own sound or maybe he already had a distinctive style and polished it regularly over the years. A few weeks ago, in the unassuming minimalist setting of the Un-urban Coffeehouse, a cozy, but enthusiastic crowd got to witness some music hewn from the fingers of a master player. Beyond the style and the technical know-how, is what you'll find missing from many a slick guitarist: the artistry and the beauty. You can get a hint by listening to his "Creeper" documented on internet video, but the sound is nowhere near the soul squeezing tone that you get in live performance. As it should be. This is music to hear right in front of you and a musician who invites you into a few chapters of his life. Just follow those fingers.
“The Lost Takoma Sessions” is a real jewel. Fosson, who currently resides in Los Angeles where he continues to write and record, should forever be mentioned in the same breath as other Takoma luminaries Robbie Basho, Peter Lang and Leo Kottke, as his ringing 12-string deftly propels the album’s 12 originals. Fosson’s tone is round and luxurious, and his playing exudes an understated joy, with nary a wasted note to be found on the whole album. What a treasure.
Almost 30 years on, “The Lost Takoma Sessions” has been released. It sounds both pristine and of the moment. Fosson is serene in his own soundworld, from which he demonstrates no desire to depart. These highly listenable tracks are all of a piece. “Variations On A Thumb” and “All The Time In The World” are silvery, fast-moving and idyllic, like weirs on a summer day. The dreamy, pensive “Sky Piece” invites you to lie back, pick at your teeth with a piece of straw and make out formations in the passing cotton clouds. These sessions are the stuff of life’s unexpected yet not unpleasant intermissions.
The music is, as you might expect, similar in spirit if not sound to Takoma stalwarts like Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho. But Fosson manages to carve out a unique place among his fellow fingerpickers: his airy, lyrical playing shines brightest on the transcendant “Sky Piece” and the complex runs that comprise “Variations On A Thumb”. Arriving in a musical climate where all things Fahey-related have an unexpectedly hip cachet, ironically, Fosson finally seems to have gotten his timing right.
Mark Fosson delivers an excellent singer/songwriter album. While the musical framework is resolutely country, the settings range from slow, swaying arrangements to more upbeat and rollicking numbers. His voice will knock you out, then gently caress you on this stunning collection of rich story songs. A compelling set that will delight those into the classic singer/songwriter genre. * * * *
The late John Fahey influenced many a musician seeking to twist the gentle, pastoral ring of picked acoustic guitar into strange and unusual patterns. One such acolyte was Mark Fosson, a Kentucky guitarist who scored a deal with Fahey’s Takoma imprint, but saw his debut stiff when the label went bankrupt. Dug up three decades on, Fosson’s chiming instrumentals like “Variations On A Thumb” recall Fahey’s whimsical, melodic side more than any questing experimental urges, but Fosson is capable of breathtaking shifts of mood, too; simply immerse yourself in the weaving, tension-laden “Cosmic Hiccup” for proof.
The aptly titled Lost Takoma Sessions reveals a young, fleet-fingered axman mutating instrumental acoustic blues into a kind of modern classical folk music, which of course is exactly what Fahey and his other great discoveries had been doing since the late '50s. But unlike Fahey's alchemical and very tactile fusion of Indian classical and the blues, as well as Robbie Basho's full-throttled mystical drone, Fosson's skill and style feel smoother, lighter, cleaner, less psychedelic, and far more sober; these 12 compositions exhibit a sense of late-'70s, New Age refinement instead of '60s-bred experimentation, although a couple, "Quarter Moon" and "Frozen Finger," are fairly heady. I'll definitely be spending more time with Fosson's music.
Now dig this record. If you’re into Fahey’s milder moods, or vintage vocal-free Kottke, that won’t be too hard. Fosson, the son of a blues record collector, grew up in bluegrass country, so he was subject to some of the same influences that shaped his Takoma forefathers’ music. Like Fahey, he has a strong instinct for melodic elaboration, working intriguing turns into “Quarter Moon” and “Wind Through A Broken Glass” gambling figures. But the general disposition of his compositions is sunny and sweet, more along Kottke’s lines; “All The Time In The World” conjures images of walking down a dirt road to the lake, fishing pole in hand, while “Frozen Fingers” is cut from the same fast-flowing cloth as “Vaseline Machine Gun.” Fosson sticks to 12-string throughout and gets a dense, bright sound from the instrument. Lost no longer, this album should find favor with the new guard of acoustic guitar enthusiasts.
Clad in typeface echoing Tom Weller's work on early Fahey covers-- large, bubbly letters, equal parts psychedelic and graffiti-- Takoma Sessions is the last great record Takoma was never able to release. As a testament to how well Fosson plays, Fahey also scrawled on the tape, "best demo tape I've heard since Kottke". Where Fahey's manner was deeply steeped in blues, minor scales, and funereal syncopations, Fosson expresses far less pathos and far more, well, sunshine; rather than stomp or wail, he saves his most expressive moments for mutes, slides, harmonics-- he has a light touch, literally. Fosson, when he plays, drones not with the bass note (as Fahey did-- it sounds like death himself knocking at your door) but with the higher end of his picking pattern. Thus the gravity in his play shifts, as he feints one way or another (one song is called "Variations on a Thumb"). It also allows him to riff more than many in the Am Priv school: "Jubilaya" sees him rip off flurries of precise and clean harmonic mutes, breaking up his flow so he can slap right back with it. Or he'll sound accents with string bends (in this, he sounds something like his now contemporary Currituck Co.) and hammer-ons, as he does on "Wind Through a Broken Glass". Technical skill isn't all: Fosson is also a purely American-sounding player. The raga, drone, and concrete that almost inevitably make their way into solo players' repertoire are largely absent in Fosson's play. "Quarter Moon" evokes lazy, deep, Southern riverbanks and muddy sun-drenched afternoons; "Chillicothe" occurs on the same day, but later, as the light fails and the players have reported to their own porches and families. It's uniquely beautiful. On the way, apparently, is a more recent collection of Fosson's work. Finally, after 30 years, it looks like he will again have a go at a career slinging his guitar around the country. This is good news: Lost Sessions, as lovely as it often is, also sounds like an artifact. We need more living artists on this same tip, working with the younger generation-- of which Jack Rose, the Philadelphia-based guitar player, is by far the most serious-- so that music as good as this doesn't stay stuck in past.
La prima volta che ho incontrato il nome di Mark Fosson è stato in un disco di Lisa O’Kane in cui lui prestava la sua chitarra in gran parte del disco e la sua voce in un brano. Non avrei mai immaginato di ritrovarlo con un disco tutto suo e soprattutto di ottima fattura come Jesus On A Greyhound. Nativo del Kentucky, Fosson è uno dei tanti musicisti della East Coast che si sono trasferiti sulla costa opposta alla ricerca di un contratto discografico ma che poi si sono dovuti adattare alla vita del session man. Dopo aver atteso a lungo, finalmente grazie alla lungimiranza della Big Otis, Fosson è riuscito a dar voce al suo raffinato songwriting. Prodotto da Edward Tree, Jesus On A Greyhound, vede la partecipazione di un folto gruppo di musicisti composto da Bob Glaub al basso (già con Jackson Browne), David Jackson all’accordion (Dave Alvin, Peter Case), Gabe Witcher al violino (Willie Nelson, Jerry Douglas) e Dave Beyer (Melissa Etheridge) alla batteria. L’ascolto del disco ci svela un songwriting molto maturo dai toni country-folk i cui riferimenti vanno rintracciati in John Prine e Gordon Lightfoot come dimostrano l’iniziale Old River Rd o Might As Well Be On The Moon. Tra i brani più intensi meritano una citazione la murder ballad old time Waiting For The Sheriff, la sofisticata melodia di Simplehearted e la magnifica Hang My Picture posta in conclusione
Klassieke singer/songwriter Mark Fosson doet wat denken aan uitstekende singer/songwriters als Guy Clark, John Prine of Townes van Zandt. Hij schrijft teksten die een zekere literaire kwaliteit hebben, maakt er goede melodieuze liedjes van en zingt ze met een prettige, licht hese stem. De arrangementen zijn veelal akoestisch, balanceren ergens tussen country en folk en klinken uitstekend, gespeeld door een geïnspireerd spelende band. Toch geven de teksten je regelmatig het onbehaaglijke gevoel dat hier een man aan het woord is die niet helemaal deugt. Een nummer als Little Darlin’ is ongetwijfeld ironisch bedoeld, maar je denkt toch steeds dat de man méént wat hij zingt. “Little darlin’ stop your crying, I won’t hurt you no more.” Hum. Het titelnummer getuigt dan weer van een stuitend belerend moralisme. Maar het blijft wringen – word ik hier als luisteraar in de maling genomen of meent hij het allemaal echt? Er staan echter te veel sterke nummers op dit album, en de algehele kwaliteit is zo hoog dat we hem zonder meer het voordeel van de twijfel geven.
SPOTLIGHT ARTIST Mark Fosson has a very attractive, slightly husky voice admirably suited to these 13 original songs performed acoustically. Fosson shows just how talented he is playing guitar, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, harmonica and even the spoons. Edward Tree produces and provides some really tasty Dobro and guitar work with David Jackson handling bass and accordion, Gabe witcher fiddling and Bob Glaub picking bass. Lisa O’Kane and Sarah Coleman sing harmonies. The songs are well-crafted stories, episodes of life, that include “Old River Road”, “The Day The Earth Stood Still”, “Waiting For The Sheriff” and “History Of The World”. And of course there is the superb “Jesus On A Greyhound”. An album of the month!
MARK FOSSON Jesus On A Greyhound... (Big Otis) Mark Fosson is another easterner, (Kentucky), who went west in search of a record label, thirty some odd years ago. It has taken a bit of time, (understatement), but, as granny used to say, good things are worth waiting for. There are echoes of John Prine, and even Gordon Lightfoot, in “Wrap Me Up”, in the thirteen songs that comprise this, his debut CD. Fosson wrote all of the songs herein, and plays a variety of stringed instruments, along with harmonica and spoons. Long-time collaborator Edward Tree handles the other guitars, and a collection of lesser known, but well-traveled and not unskilled, L.A. musicians round out his band. The end product is a folksy country sort of blues that weathers repeated spins on the changer very well. He's a singer/songwriter who's work stands up there with the best of them, and it had better not take another thirty years for the follow-up, because some of us might not be around to catch it. * * * *
"The material is intelligent and well-constructed. It's pretty much an acoustic, folky deal, with a sometimes distant echo of Dylan, yet with a satisfying country element. This collection has been a long time coming, but friends, Jesus On A Greyhound has been well worth the wait!" * * * *
Mark Fosson “Jesus On A Greyhound” (Big Otis Records 2005) What this record sounds like is given away by the press release that lists the various musicians that played on it. Not what you might call big names, but they've played with the likes of Jackson Browne, Dave Alvin, Peter Case, Willie Nelson, Melissa Etheridge etc.. Factor in also that Mark Fosson was once signed to John Fahey's Takoma records and you just know there's going to be some high quality playing on this record, and it doesn't disappoint. Though something of a long-term fixture in southern California's music scene this is Fosson's first full-length record. There's a mixture of styles here, within an acoustic-folk-country frame, at times there are hints of JJ Cale, and (by logical extension!) Mark Knopfler, and there's a warmth in Mark's voice like Gordon Lightfoot, 'Wrap Me Up' for example nicely combines a Gordon Lightfoot vocal feel with a JJ Cale style backing. Here and there are reflections of the Allman's 'Ramblin' Man' too, though in deconstructed back porch style. No new frontiers here, but an impossible record to dislike, this is one to play when the sun's going down after a hot day, cold beer in hand.