Playwright, actor and director Sam Shepard at one stage played drums for the Holy Modal Rounders and contributed the tune for Back Again (a co-rewrite that started as an instrumental from an old recording with banjo-playing son Walker, words by Stampfel). The son’s no slouch on the banjo, and at the age of seventeen with just seven months experience under his belt, according to Stampfel, could do stuff on it I couldn’t, after going at it for about fifty years, and singing like an old Southern mountain guy from a hundred years ago. That’s Stampfel doing the vocal here, though, sounding like something from the nineteenth century though there’s a contemporary edge to the lyrics with references to falling off the wagon and such. LIstening to the tune there’s a fair bit in common with the one Robin Williamson appropriated for the Incredible String Band’s Log Cabin Home in the Sky...

Things are in much more authentic old time territory for Golden Slippers , straight out of the blackface minstrel era, and then we come to the genuinely odd Shombolar, originally recorded by Sheriff and the Ravels in December 1958, and, according to Stampfel the Rosetta Stone connecting African music, Caribbean music, and doo-wop.

There’s a fair dash of old time jug band about Gonna Make Me and the good time music continues through Hey-OMemphis Shakedown and New Fortune Fortune, a couple of prime examples of cuica-driven Old Weird Freak Folk. Comes Around embraces the principle that a melody cannot be too simple, or too stupid, or too stupidly simple and  Deep in the Heart of Texas might seem to fit the same bill, but features new words from John Morthland. 

The Harry Smith Anthology provides Blind Uncle Gaspard’s La Dansuese and Stampfel’s intention to record a song for every year of the twentieth century provides I Will Survive, which might seem like a surprising choice or 1979  but has, in Stampfel’s own words Really nice chords, and it’s fun to sing

Old Weird/Freak Folk (OWFF) is Stampfel’s term for what’s on offer here, and the contents may or may not actually fit under generic classifications, though Stampfel’s descriptors of the stye add a bit of clarification to what you can expect from his current projects. 

OWFF tends to be multi-generational and generationally inclusive, as opposed to that just-for-the-young or just-for-the-hip exclusivity common to other genres and the instrumental breaks lean towards soloing amidst ensemble improvisation (tail-gating in traditional New Orleans jazz) as opposed to the Everybody-take-turns-and-show-off solo aesthetic you tend to find in bluegrass and jazz with, in Stampfel’s words an ever-increasing possibility of neat weird shit happening.

Your mileage will, of course, vary, depending on your tolerance of one man’s neat weird shit. Approach with caution, but definitely worth investigating if those descriptors sound like the sort of thing that floats your boat. Definitely works for me...


Stampfel's liner notes

Blabber'n'Smoke review

© Ian Hughes 2012