Page 4 of 5
Each release became more ambitious, each project its own treasure hunt into a forgotten time and sound. Following releases focused on specific instruments (the string bass) or a style of recording (Art of Field Recording: Vol. 1: 50 Years of Traditional American Music Documented by Art Rosenbaum, which won a Grammy award in '08 for Best Historical Album).
One of the most fascinating offerings came in September 2009 when Parlortone, Dust-to-Digital's vinyl wing, debuted with "Au Clair de la Lune," a one-sided 7-inch featuring the earliest intelligible recording of the human voice. The recording was made in France on April 9, 1860 — 17 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. A man named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented a strange process by which a tuning fork was affixed to a piece of paper and suspended over an oil lamp. Vibrations on the paper recorded patterns in the smoke, which were then turned into sound, which is how the recording was captured. It's a noisy ghost of a recording, one that raised the label's profile.
Ledbetter continues to stretch the limits of what constitutes a music label. In August, Dust-to-Digital released artist Steve Roden's I Listen to the Wind That Obliterates My Traces: Music in Vernacular Photographs 1880-1955. The book compiles found photos, disembodied recordings and writing that's related to the acts of listening to and playing music. It's an intuitive offering that's culled from Roden's collection of thousands of photos that he's amassed over many years. Facilitating projects such as this one have become a large part of Dust-to-Digital's MO, culminating with releases such as Jim Linderman's Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950. "He came to us with hundreds of jaw-dropping baptism photos that he'd been collecting for 25 years," Ledbetter explains. "By the time he found us, he'd already done half a lifetime's works, and he trusted us to handle it properly."
Other releases show how Ledbetter's detective work pays off, such as Parlortone's pairing with Los Angeles-based Excavated Shellac blogger Jonathan Ward for the LP Strings: Guitar, Oud, Tar, Violin and More From the 78 RPM Era. The two compiled recordings of exotic stringed instruments from around the world between 1920-1950. "I wrote to [Ward] and said, 'I'm totally impressed with what you're doing,'" Ledbetter says. "There's not a lot of info on the Internet, and not a lot of books out there on the subject, but the research was impeccable." Together they also produced the massive Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM collection of rare Pan-African recordings made between 1909 and the mid-'60s (out Oct. 25).
Five years after stumbling upon those original Fahey recordings in Bussard's basement, the find has yielded Ledbetter's Ark of the Covenant, the definitive document of Fahey's early years in Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You. The title comes from a conversation that Fahey had with Glenn Jones, the set's producer and guitarist for Boston-based post-rock auteurs Cul de Sac, shortly before Fahey died in February 2001 from complications following a heart surgery. "John was a reluctant participant," Jones says. "He said, 'Boy, Glenn. Your past comes back to haunt you! I couldn't play guitar very well back then, and if Dean wants to put those out he can pay me $10,000 and it won't really hurt my reputation. ... Or he can wait till I'm dead and put it out."
Around the same time that Ledbetter discovered the Fonotone masters, Revenant had hatched the first plan to release them as a set. But the label was winding down, and when a technical glitch erased all of the DAT transfers it'd made from the original masters, Dust-to-Digital picked up the pieces.
Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You is a split release between the two labels. The five discs that make up the set trace Fahey's evolution from wearing the influences of such early American musical icons as Charley Patton and Sylvester Weaver on his sleeve to gaining command over his instrument. What's most striking about its earliest material is that it captures Fahey singing. Except for the drunken Cajun-style rant he delivered with "je Ne Me Suis Reveillais Matin Pas en May" on The Voice of the Turtle in '68, Fahey didn't sing on his records.
In fact, it's awkward to hear him emulating such a distinctly black, Delta blues singing/growling style. It's plain to see what Fahey was embarrassed about, particularly with the oldest recordings. But there's a wealth of rich material hiding in the later recordings, all of which illustrates what went into making John Fahey the musician that he became.
By the time you listen to discs three, four and five, it's as though a couple of great lost Fahey albums have emerged. Some of the later tracks were recorded around the same time as Fahey's first official album, Blind Joe Death, which was initially in a limited edition of fewer than 100 copies in 1959. The same album mutated over the next few years, reappearing two more times, ultimately taking the title The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death in '67.
Fahey's stripped-down, steel-string acoustic style was progressive for the time, and six of the 115 songs featured in the set made their way onto Blind Joe Death — his renditions of blues standards such as "St. Louis Blues" (W.C. Handy) and "In Christ There Is No East or West" (Harry Burleigh and John Oxenham), along with original numbers "On Doing an Evil Deed Blues" and "The Transcendental Waterfall." Dust-to-Digital's set features the first working versions of these songs to appear in Fahey's canon. "I didn't want to pretend that everything on the set was up to par with everything that John made, because that would be a lie," Jones says. "I also didn't want to diminish the material, so much of which is important. If you want to understand what he became, you have to understand where he came from, and where he started," he adds. "There was a lot of the man in the boy."
All 80s movies want you...
Their show with Chris, Lord about 3 years at the Unicorn was the best.
I am a connoisseur of this real soul music like the comment above I'm glad…
You've got a few of my faves listed here, plus a bunch I've never heard…
This is such a cool idea and the performance is great (I've been twice) but…