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V/A - Frank Fairfield’s Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts

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Artist: V/A

Album: Frank Fairfield’s Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts

Label: Tompkins Square

Review date: Sep. 8, 2010

Here at Dusted, we reviewers are given great freedom to choose the releases we cover. I generally try to stick with what I know best. As much as I enjoy, say, avant-garde jazz, it would be a disservice to pretty much everyone if I tried to write about it. I wouldn’t be talking out of my ass per se, but the review wouldn’t come through the mouth, if you know what I mean. I’ve no problem ceding the jazz turf to smarter folks like Bill Meyer.

This hesitancy goes extra for “collections of old and rare music from around the world.” I love compilations from Soundway, Analog Africa, Mississippi, Sub Rosa, Nonesuch, etc., but jeepers creepers am I not qualified to write about such things. At best, I could give brief historical summaries and tack on a “These funky tracks really give Fela a run for his money” or “70 years later, the pain of the blues still comes through.” There are skillful ways for non-musicologists to tackle these releases; I am not so skillful.

Yet here I am, writing about a collection called Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts – Rare and unheralded gramophone recordings from around the world (1916-1964). I signed up for this, and thankfully, Frank Fairfield makes it easy for me. The concept behind the release is simple: there is no concept. It’s just sixteen tracks taken from Fairfield’s diverse collection of 78s. It doesn’t purport to be definitive of anything and makes zero efforts toward contextualization. What you see is what you get, people.

Of course, that’s not completely true. Fairfield is being somewhat disingenuous in his presentation, as the liner notes contain a wealth of information about these artists and the styles of music on display. Tidbits galore, with details of U.S. shellac rationing during WWII and Dutch colonial ignorance of Javanese musical traditions from 1602-1798. But the overall spirit of the compilation is generous, not academic or “killer rare.” It’s hard to say much more than the title does – Fairfield’s collection hits on wonderful folk recordings from, among other places, Scotland, Japan, Java, Hawaii and France.

Your mileage with some of these styles may vary, as not everyone into the blues guitar of Slim Barton will enjoy the brash accordion work of Georges Cantournet or staid Byzantine liturgical music from 1930. But just about everything here, be it raucous Southern preaching or hypnotic African dance accompaniment, is unimpeachable. I’m particularly crazy about the delirious, sped-up call-and-response of Tautu Archer’s “Ama Ama,” though I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Hawaiian music of the 1940s. Judging from how Fairfield has crafted this album, I’m sure he’s fine with that.

By Brad LaBonte

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