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Barred Bards

Dylan's friend Blind Arvella Gray
photo: Conjuroo Recordings

In the summer of 1971, COB, Clive's Original Band, led by Clive Palmer, dropout co-founder of the Incredible String Band, descended through dogpaths of Cornwall and into a London studio: barefoot buskers, shaking from their knapsack the likes of cannily enigmatic "Lion of Judah," which darts across the parade route of all orthodoxies. Meanwhile, the soulful "Chain of Love" has its own karmic seeds to burn.

A Taste of Ra is the self-titled album of a certain pseudonymous Swede. (I suspect the Dungen dude.) It's an in-joke on "acid folk," with someone shuffling around his kitchen, talking and laughing under his breath. Eventually, we get angelic Harpo Marx–worthy string effects and dust-disturbing falsetto vibrations, as if he's channeling St. Tiny of Tim, out of the Wilde Blue Yonder. Recommended!

New England's Dredd Foole (Dan Ireton) used to lead a tribe called the Din, which sometimes included emissaries from noise kings Mission of Burma. As presented by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Forced Exposure's Byron Coley, the Foole, armed now only with mostly non-noisy vocals and solo guitar, does indeed fight a long losing battle with eloquence and intimance (sic), and listeners win. He's the bard of the barred and scarred, the ones who pay the toll and the troll. The Unrepentant, Baby!

1972's (expanded) The Singing Drifter is the only album by Arvella Gray, to whom Bob Dylan attributed "He Was a Friend of Mine," which Gray himself never recorded. Here, he sometimes drifts too far, yet usually manages to re-engage, as a blind street singer had better. His voice and Dobro urge blues and gospel into a glistening, steely maze of grace. Startling, but they don't call it "faith" for nothing. (Or even so.)


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