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Michael Hurley - Sweetkorn

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Artist: Michael Hurley

Album: Sweetkorn

Label: Trikont

Review date: Oct. 3, 2002

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Children of America, put down that Cat Power record. Knock it off with those early Elliot Smith records. All this creepy, folk-inspired music nowadays does not have your best interests at heart. It wants to make you wear sweaters, read Kierkegaard and call old significant others in the middle of the night and weep into into their answering machines. It does not have your best interests at heart.

On the other hand, Michael Hurley is not here to bum you out. His shambling, meandering folk music has seen him through at least 30 years, petty theft, janitorial work and car-mechanic gigs, and he just wants to let it help you, too. And even if it lacks the feeling of bad portent and misery current practitioners of weirdo-roots, music this good-natured isn’t likely to let you down. As Hurley (also known as Snock, Doc Snock and Snog) says himself, “[My music] is for the action crowd.”

Of course, it’s not entirely clear who the action crowd of whom Hurley speaks are, nor is it apparent what sort of action they make (the best evidence is some sort of repeated, semi-narcoleptic, nodding-off gesture). Hurley’s music is unlikely to please folk classicists – he uses a clanking guitar closer to Talking Heads than Ledbelly on a cover of Tom T. Hall’s “Negatory Romance” – and lacks the boisterous get-up-and-go that alt-country fans might enjoy. Rather, Hurley’s quavery growl and meandering, often haphazard guitar plucking present an awkward, endearing side path for roots music. He doesn’t want to update it or take it back to some mythical wellspring of purity. He just wants to make some music that takes the edge off your day.

Sweetkorn finds Hurley in the contemplative mood that has marked much of his recent music. Recorded with an ad hoc band in an apartment in Massachusetts, the record has a loose swinging feel. Along with a wide array of rough-hewn Hurley originals, he takes stabs at the traditional “Barbara Allen,” as well as the old standard “Mona Lisa.” On the latter, Hurley fits the smooth phrasing and low-key jazziness of the original into his own addled style. The band, barely a big name among them, abet the proceedings ably, largely by staying out of the way of Hurley’s periodic tangents; abrupt, seemingly purposeless guitar riffs sidle out of the song before halting as suddenly as they started.

As ever, talking about individual tracks on a Michael Hurley album is almost beside the point. The project here is the totality: the ringmaster’s bruised cheeriness and worn optimism carry the day, even when voice, instrument and taste fail to be up to the task. It’s enough to make a Cat Power fan want to become part of the action crowd themselves.

By Sam Eccleston

Other Reviews of Michael Hurley

Down In Dublin

Ancestral Swamp

Ida Con Snock

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View all articles by Sam Eccleston

Find out more about Trikont

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