Monday, June 14, 2010

THE HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS - VOL. 1 & 2 1964-1965

The Holy Modal Rounders were almost the very definition of a cult act. This isn't a case of a group that would be described by such cliches as "if only they got more exposure, they would certainly reach a much wider audience." Their audience was small because their music was too strange, idiosyncratic, and at times downright dissonant for mainstream listeners to abide. What makes the Rounders unusual in this regard is that they owed primary allegiance to the world of acoustic folk -- not one that generates many difficult, arty, and abrasive performers.
The Holy Modal Rounders were not so much a group as a changing aggregation centered around the two principals, Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber. When the pair got together in 1961, the intention was to update old-time folk music with a contemporary spirit. As Stampfel told Folk Roots in 1995, "The Rounders were the first really bent traditional band. And the first traditionally based band that was not trying to sound like an old record." They weren't the only musicians in New York thinking along these lines, and Stampfel and Weber contributed heavily to the first recordings by a similar, more rock-oriented group, the Fugs.
The Rounders began recording in the mid-'60s for Prestige as an acoustic duo. Even at this early stage, they were not for everybody. Although clearly accomplished musicians, and well-versed in folk traditions, they were determined to subvert these with off-kilter execution and strange lyrics that could be surreal, whimsical, or just silly. They outraged folk purists by simply changing melodies and words to suit their tastes on some of their cover versions of old standards; Stampfel once wrote in the liner notes that "I made up new words to it because it was easier than listening to the tape and writing words down."


Both of the Rounders' first two Prestige albums are combined onto one disc on this CD reissue, with the addition of new historical liner notes by Larry Kelp. Even if you already have the records, this might be of interest for the inclusion of two previously unreleased 1964 outtakes, "Sugar in the Gourd" and "Soldier's Joy." Also, the second album has been resequenced by Stampfel, who was always dissatisfied with how the tracks were sequenced on the LP, to conform to running order that the band originally had in mind. Altogether, this is the prime document of the Rounders in their early folk days, simultaneously paying homage to and sending up traditional folk with guitar, fiddle, banjo, and slightly zany vocals. ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide

This is a reissue of the first two Holy Modal Rounders records, resequenced according to the artists' original intent and including two unreleased songs from the time of the recording (1963-64). Perhaps the most earsplittingly original duo of the entire folk revival, the Holy Modal Rounders (fiddler-banjoist Peter Stampfel with guitarist Steve Weber) merged the raw energies of rock, traditional American folk, and blues in a weird, whimsical manner (later dunderheadedly termed "acid folk"). The Holy Modal Rounders performed screeching yet subtle versions of old numbers by the likes of Clarence Ashley, Vernon Dalhart, and Uncle Dave Macon, updating tunes like "Hesitation Blues" with a countercultural reference or two (their version of that song contains the first recorded usage of "psychedelic"). This is one of the coolest things about the Rounders--as Stampfel writes in the liner notes, their basic approach to an old tune was to "hear song, forget song, try to remember song while adding your personal wrinkles, bingo!" An irreverent wit pervades the disc, from pop-tune parodies such as "Mr. Spaceman" to their original folk-based songs (which were neither preachy nor ham-fisted--a true rarity in '63) such as "Blues in the Bottle" and "Hey, Hey Baby." The result not only sounds way less corny than anything else from the era, but hews much closer to the raggedly strange, sublime Americana sounds of Charlie Poole, Dock Boggs, and Charley Patton. --Mike McGonigal

Originally released on Prestige/Folklore (14031) and Prestige (7410). Includes liner notes by Peter Stampfel and Larry Kelp.

Out of lockstep with most of the early '60s folk revival, the Holy Modal Rounders remain one of the era's true treasures. Like their friends the Fugs and Michael Hurley--all less Greenwich and more East Village--they were intent on blowing up accepted notions of folk, and scoffed at their contemporaries' rarified treatment of traditional material. They often rewrote lyrics and melodies to reflect their own modern, proto-stoner outlook and sang everything in a nasal harmony that at times came nerve-rattlingly close to atonal. Indeed, the duo--originally banjoist-fiddler Peter Stampfel and guitarist Steve Weber--achieved infamy by being the first band to use the word "psychedelic" in a recorded song--in this case, their gonzo cover of the Charlie Poole standard "Hesitation Blues."
The Rounders could back up the outrageousness with impeccable chops--both instrumental and vocal--and an obvious love for hillbilly songs and spirit. HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS, VOL. 1 + 2 compiles their first two albums in one place, resequenced to reflect the band's original plan. The collection is a classic of freak Americana and features entertaining liner notes by Stampfel himself, as well as two unreleased tunes: "Soldier's Joy" and "Sugar in the Gourd."

Tracks :

1. Blues in the Bottle
2. Give the Fiddler a Dram
3. Cuckoo
4. Euphoria
5. Long John
6. Sugar in the Gourd (previously unreleased)
7. Hesitation Blues
8. Hey, Hey Baby
9. Reuben's Train
10. Mr. Spaceman
11. Moving Day
12. Better Things for You
13. Same Old Man
14. Hop High Ladies
15. Bound to Lose
16. Bully of the Town
17. Sail Away Ladies
18. Statesboro Blues
19. Clinch Mountain Backstep
20. Down the Old Plank Road
21. Black Eyed Suzie
22. Hot Corn, Cold Corn
23. Crowley Waltz
24. Fishin' Blues
25. Junko Partner
26. Soldier's Joy (previously unreleased)
27. Mole in the Ground
28. Chevrolet 6
29. Flop Eared Mule


  1. Many thankx, I never hear this material.

  2. Wow! I used to see these guys all the time at the Euphoria Tavern, Portland,Ore.(named after their song or vice versa?) Have not seen this stuff in years, thanks!!

  3. kid's today!
    would I pay $25 to listen to a this again . . . NO
    why are the BIG players so fffing GREEDY.
    I'd happily pay these old gentlemen a dollar,
    but iTunes wants 100 times that.
    Steve Jobs, remember Tim Berners Lee who created the
    internet on a FREE for ALL, when he could have made

  4. Great album, thanks for posting about it. These guys are awesome. I just reviewed it on my blog. Really dig your site, it's going on my blogroll! If you've got room on your "Friends" list and wouldn't mind adding my review & music blog, I'd be honored!

  5. Thank you SO MUCH! I've been trying to find more Holy Modal Rounders material for the last couple of years.


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