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Michael Hurley - Ida Con Snock

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Artist: Michael Hurley

Album: Ida Con Snock

Label: Gnomonsong

Review date: Oct. 7, 2009

Michael Hurley’s voice has grown gruffer than it was in his ‘70s heyday, his pronunciation sometimes slurred. It’s gained a quality in aging – not exactly like a fine wine, as the saying goes, but more the way an old, wool blanket frays and acquires stains but feels softer and more familiar. The first listen through Ida Con Snock, I wondered what about the album sounded so familiar. It wasn’t the medley of “Loch Lomond” and “Molly Malone,” and a cover of “Ragg Mopp.” Those were all smash hits of my early Seegers-and-Weavers-type childhood, though it’s been a long while since my dad and I crooned them together to kazoo-and-triangle accompaniment.

The rest of Ida Con Snock captures the spirit of those bygone singalongs: the songs function and feel like they’re meant for kids. There are sprawling stories about owls in the woods complete with hooting noises, songs about wolves and geese, and about a Mrs. Mable Green who makes “gelatine.” Almost every song shuffles between the back-porch and a pretty, uncomplicated folk melody.

It’s no surprise that Ida serve as Hurley’s backing band. Elizabeth Mitchell and Dan Littleton of Ida, after all, currently enjoy some success as children’s music performers. One could happily bounce a toddler on a knee to the beat of “Hog of the Forsaken” or “Any Ninny Any.” Sure, there are some raucous lyrics about bumpin’ someone’s ass on “I Can’t Help Myself,” which has a kind of shitkicker-country vibe, but kids nowadays hear that kind of thing all the time.

Ida play with their typical lovely precision, to the point where they almost don’t work as Hurley’s accompanists. When Mitchell and he harmonize on the seduction jam “The Time Is Right,” her clear, soft voice is almost too pretty next to his gruff tones, which are apt to break into fake-trumpet vocals at any moment. Then again, these clashes imbue the record with its family-band sound: the beloved, wacky uncle with his less scrappy younger relations, all getting down to some age-old jams. Without sounding too dippy, this kind of warmhearted intergenerational collaboration is the ultimate hippie dream – the sixtysomething has made it to his grey-haired days, playing vaguely weird but mostly placid folk music with some thirtysomethings, who will probably play this music for their kids. It’s not punk (and certainly not as ground-breaking as other Hurley records), but it’s hard to imagine something more pleasant to listen to on a chilly fall evening.

By Talya Cooper

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