What To Buy: Cosmic Americana Vinyl

Chris Parkin uncovers the latest gems in a particular genre. Here, he takes a trip into the desert with the stoner jams of Americana’s psychedelic rockers

Last year, Chicago’s Numero Group released Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music, a compilation exploring the twanging space cowboys who followed in the footsteps of Gram Parsons – musicians on the margins, who hated country rock and twisted it into their own cosmic Americana.

There are plenty of contemporary US rock and roots artists whose guiding lights are the primitive playing of John Fahey and Robbie Basho, the head music and lysergic blues-rock of the Grateful Dead and the ghostly guitar of Television’s Tom Verlaine.
Wayfaring StrangersOne exponent of this particular branch of cosmic Americana who still believes in the mystical power of a mountainous guitar jam is Chris Forsyth. A fixture on New York’s improv-guitar scene, he broke out with his albums Kenzo Deluxe, Intensity Ghost and last year’s The Rarity Of Experience. Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band’s new album Dreaming In The Non-Dream (No Quarter) is a vast four-tracker of motorik psych-blues that starts in jam-band territory before wigging out at the bar, then coming down to the gentle picking of Two Minutes Love.


On a similar tip, but throwing in a heavy dose of Canned Heat and the best cosmic Americana there ever was, Captain Beefheart, are Endless Boogie. Leader Paul Major is a growling fuzz-guitar obsessive and collector of psychedelic music. Live, his band play until they drop. On record, as on their hilariously foreboding latest, Vibe Killer (No Quarter), they deliver liquid-light psych-rock the way only a US band with this sort of thing coursing through their veins can do.

James Elkington cover cosmic AmericanaJames Elkington is very different. A British-born guitarist who’s played guitar for Jeff Tweedy and Steve Gunn, he brings a love of Bert Jansch and Richard Thompson to the table. But on his debut album, Wintres Woma (Paradise Of Bachelors), this long-time Chicago resident’s swift fingerpicking verges on raga territory and he uses lap-steel guitar and cello on wry, sad songs of big skies and dusty plains.

Steve Lowenthal’s VDSQ (Vin Du Select Qualitite) began as a cassette-only label dealing in avant-folk with punk-rock sensibilities. So, outsider acoustic folk-drone that sounded like John Fahey and Jack Rose. But the label has come a long way, and new albums by Chuck Johnson and Mark McGuire have given VDSQ a new audience. Johnson’s Balsams is a pacific journey through meditative, beatific pedal-steel guitar, while McGuire, who made desert-blasted guitar-and-electronic abstractions with Emeralds, takes an outsider-folk path, strumming and picking with gleeful abandon on Ideas Of Beginnings.

Hitching up alongside the likes of Steve Gunn, Hiss Golden Messenger, Joan Shelley, William Tyler, Daniel Bachman, Heron Oblivion, Arbouretum and so many more, these acoustic adventurers, psych-rockers and boogie-stoners are in very good company.