In the early '90s, Sony issued a CD combining the two albums it made in 1969 and 1971 with "classicist at heart" street musician Louis Hardin, better known as Moondog. The Sony reissue arrived at a time when interest in Moondog was at an all-time low, as he had lived in Germany for two decades and his popular first Columbia album had been out of print nearly half that time; the second album was so obscure it barely survived its initial release. This BGO Records reissue, Moondog -- Moondog 2, debuted in England literally on the heels of news of Hardin's passing in 1999, and it is hard not to fault label for cashing in on stakes made liquid by the ever-unpredictable vicissitudes of the grim reaper. On the other hand, it is nice to have these two available again, and as both albums were short to start with, both made for CBS, and both produced by James William Guercio, it is only natural that they should be combined onto one CD.
The first LP, Moondog, features Moondog jamming with some of the top-flight studio musicians in New York on his own charts in an ambitiously scored bag reminiscent of a forgotten Epic LP from the '50s, Moondog and His Friends -- difficult to reissue, like its successors, it's really, really short. The second, the inaccurately titled Moondog 2, consists of 26 canons drawn from his first two collections of 100 canons each, composed in the '50s and '60s and printed up in editions Hardin sold hand to hand on the street. These are performed by a small group led by Hardin and included his then wife June Hardin, a small band of period instrument musicians, and Guercio himself pitching in with the percussion. The vast majority of critical notices you may read on these two albums favor the better-selling Moondog over Moondog 2. The second seems to epitomize Hardin's recorded work in regards to his Art of the Canon, and serves to summarize this particular period in Hardin's development, given the dearth of any live recordings from this time. One aspect of Hardin's work for CBS that is intriguing is how well he and Guercio utilized the resources at hand at Columbia and how the Moondog LPs fit into the CBS mold of the time. Some of the things on Moondog 2 are not terribly far away musically from what quirky pop groups like Matching Mole and Gentle Giant were recording on contemporary CBS albums that sold equally poorly, and at times Hardin's voice sounds coincidentally a little like Robert Wyatt's. Of course, in hindsight we recognize how great all of this stuff was, whereas in its time a lot of it went unrecognized by critics and public alike as the hippie-driven music scene gave way to the Nixon era.
For many listeners, the first Moondog CBS album is his defining statement, even as what came before, and after, broadens the picture of Hardin's output considerably. To have a package like Moondog -- Moondog 2 available is almost too good to be true, as it both delivers the basic goods on Hardin and opens the door to a broader appreciation of the truly special circumstance that was Moondog.