Sign up for newsletter
 

Various Artists

Wayfaring Strangers Cosmic American Music – 2016 (Numero)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

Find it on Amazon

Subscribe to Country CD Reviews CD Reviews

CDs by Various Artists

A while back, in the days of physical records and CD's, a bright entrepreneur (Jac Holzman) decided there was a need to collect some obscure singles from the psychedelic era of the West Coast rock sound. The collection "Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968" was released on Elektra Records (later iterations came on Rhino records) and featured some artists that, however briefly, had penetrated the miasmic consciousness of music lovers of a certain age: Arthur Lee, The Seeds, The Standells.

"Wayfaring Strangers" represents an attempt to do the same thing decades later with another genre, variously identified as alt-country, outlaw country, browngrass or cosmic country. But, "Nuggets" was released in another day and time. One is hard-pressed to understand the economics behind releasing a collection of mostly forgotten (or never remembered) artists playing three chords with stuttering breaks featuring their flat mates playing slide steel or a neighbor's Hammond B3.

But Chicago-based Numero Records has released "Wayfaring Strangers." This is an assemblage that would make an intriguing playlist on YouTube or any other streaming site. It's not immediately clear why the producers or the record company thought that the public would want to physically or digitally acquire a collection of songs that nobody ever listened to in the first place. To its credit, Numero admirably slaps lipstick on this vinyl pig by writing "And for every one-hit wonder like the Amazing Rhythm Aces, there were one-shot never-weres such as Angel Oak and Deerfield. These acts, whose albums are hard to find for even the most dedicated thrift-store bin hunters." Truer words were never spoken.

The songs are notable for their sameness and thin, reedy vocals. The aforementioned three chords (G, D and A seem to have a preternatural attraction to these individuals) and odd slide steel licks are the emblems of the "never-weres" featured on "Wayfaring Strangers."

The artists are earnest; the material slight, the playing spotty. Unquestionably, the selections represent obscure corners of the Americana hazosphere. The songs also doubtless represent countless long nights at the bar in which dreams of musical success are combined with guileless and gullible pharmacists, real estate agents or union welders who have just enough money to blow on a few hours' recording time for their drinking buddies. One can also hear the echoes of screams and tears when an unsuspecting uncle, or cousin or faithless absent father opens up their credit card bill to see that it paid for the honky tonkin', hell raisin', ill-suited musical dreams of their, niece, cousin or son, as the case may have been.

There are 19 cuts on the exhausting (as opposed to exhaustive) "Wayfaring Strangers" collection. Get a list of the cuts and stream them somewhere, if you can find them.