Michael Oosten

Michael Oosten

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From the mid-'60s to the middle of the following decade, the countercultural and rock & roll lifestyles merged. Any kid with an acoustic guitar and some songwriting ambition suddenly not only had accessible role models in the folk and rock worlds to emulate, but also plenty of venues throughout America at which to try out their songs and pick up new, progressive musical tricks in the process. A lot of mediocre music surfaced during that time, but an equal number of accomplished songwriters went the way of obscurity because their music never made it to the mainstream. One songwriter who straddled that line was Michael Oosten, a regular on the nation's accommodating coffee house and small-club circuit. Oosten began writing songs while in his late teens in the late '60s, and continued to hone his musical skills and travel throughout the early '70s, never gaining much success. He did, however, finally make it onto vinyl in 1974, and that eponymous album is reissued in its entirety on this Gear Fab CD. The album is extremely short at just over 30 minutes spread over five songs. The music has the unmistakable air of the times, too: armed with just his acoustic guitar and voice -- with a few friends contributing bass, piano, and backup vocals on a couple of the cuts -- the music is idealistic and buoyant progressive folk that takes some song structure and chord tips from psychedelic music. It sounds as if it could have been recorded on the front porch of his country house because it is so woodsy, spare, and warm. Oosten's whimsical, happy-go-lucky, often tuneless talk-singing is certainly an acquired taste (and it's a rather difficult taste to acquire), but once you get past the voice, the album has plenty of lovely musical and instrumental bits, from the bouncy "Hey Babe" to the brightly smiling "Sunny Day," while on the epic "Hungry Horse Montana," Oosten switches seamlessly from Celtic picking to Middle Eastern chord progressions. Oosten proves himself a stellar guitarist along the lines -- but not quite up to the skill level -- of John Fahey or Leo Kottke. Occasionally (too occasionally for so short an album) the music sounds flat, probably because of Oosten's vocals, or, for the same reason, overwrought in a manner that dates the music and inevitably banishes it to the musical curio bin. Nevertheless, it's fun for nostalgia's sake, and a nice evocation of an era when cynicism was still the property of adulthood.

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