Billy Bragg - Volume 2 (buy it)
Bragg's second, less essential box set includes Workers Playtime, Don't Try This At Home, William Bloke and England Half English, plus the requisite closet-cleaning bonus discs of rarities and a DVD with concerts from 1991 and 2006. Workers Playtime is a classic worth owning if you don't already have it, and the bonuses include some enticing covers, including Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" and the Rolling Stones' "She Smiled Sweetly".
Tim Hardin - 3/Live In Concert (buy it)
Russian label Lilith is behind this welcome reissue of Tim Hardin's 1968 live album, perfectly recorded at a sold-out Town Hall in New York flanked by five ace jazz musicians. Hardin, who one Amazon reviewer speculates is playing a "cheapie" guitar bought before the show and sold afterwards for drugs, sounds incredible and appreciative of the crowd, at what must have been the height of his minimal fame. For sheer 60s folk immersion, play this loud, imagining the Town Hall crowd hanging on every word Hardin the wonder boy sings. Genuinely full-hearted and likely drug-fuelled, Hardin walks the tightrope with musicians he likely hadn't played with much before. I don't know of any voice like it. This is make-out music for Chelsea Hotel fantasies.
The one downside to the package is that the florid, wide-eyed liner notes by Michael Zwerin of the Village Voice are presented here in Russian. They're half interview, half hagiography, detailing the apparent boomlet of press interest in Hardin, who is strung out in his hotel room. "He seems misplaced - almost foolish - up there playing his guitar and singing for the multitude; Emily Dickinson reciting her verses at the Republican convention, Eric Satie playing a Gymnopedie in the Astrodome...Tim Hardin sings the pain in this heart and we clap our hands. He is irrevocably on the brink of some catastrophe. His voice cracks... untrained... soft...musky...the suspense is high drama". Musky! Unfortunately you'll need a Russian friend to translate the muskiness for you if you get this edition. The vinyl's got its charms.
If Okkervil River's recent album Black Sheep Boy, named after one of Hardin's best songs, has piqued any hipsters' interest, here's the best way to dive in. "Turn the Page" only appeared on this live album.
Bert Jansch - The Black Swan (buy it)
The New York Times warns: "Two things must be understood going into it. This is not a comeback. Mr. Jansch has been making a new record every few years, with his same craggy voice and strong fingerpicking in minor-key ballads and acoustic-blues songs. And it’s far straighter than this label’s other ventures into this territory; it’s the rare example of a Drag City record that isn’t the slightest bit perverse, ironic, hermetic or bizarre. The truth is that Mr. Jansch isn’t that weird..." I'll be picking this up tomorrow nonetheless.
MP3: Bert Jansch - The Black Swan