Michael Hurley

Fatboy Spring

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Recorded in the early '70s but not released until almost 40 years later, these tracks were taken from what are referred to in the liner notes as "attic tapes." It's not a clever pun on Bob Dylan's basement tapes; these were literally recorded in the attic of an old farmhouse in East Fairfield, Vermont, with somewhat lo-fi but quite listenable fidelity. As you'd expect from roots musicians without particularly high commercial aspirations recording in a one-horse town, the vibe is relaxed and informal to the extreme, as if the tape just happens to be catching Michael Hurley and his cohorts playing for their own pleasure. In the context of almost anyone else with a recording career stretching over almost five decades, the setting might be viewed as an anomaly. In Hurley's case, it fits right in with his main body of work, even if some of his records have been made under more consciously professional circumstances. Sitting on the border between folk and rock, he and his band, the Fatboys, amble amiably through a set of characteristically whimsical tunes (including a cover of Hank Williams' "Move It on Over"), referencing but not beholden to blues, Appalachian folk, and country music. It's rural in feel, but not overly reverential of traditional folk, using some muted electric guitar and drums. Hurley's world-weary vocal style will please those who wish the likes of higher-profile musicians with similar voices -- like Leon Russell, say -- used their chops to sound more down-home and authentic. At times it sounds like the Grateful Dead at their folkiest, yet far more rustic than the Dead ever did, even as the harmonies and arrangements on tunes like "Ghost Woman Blues" and "Long John" might carry the faintest echo of American Beauty-era Dead. Owing to its casual origins, this isn't one of the first places to dive into Hurley's large discography, but fans will find it a welcome addition to his oeuvre.