Michael Hurley’s quirky, acoustic folk songs are practically a genre unto themselves. His first album, First Songs was released a mere 45 years ago, in 1965. Since then, his status as a legend on the outskirts of music has never diminished. For those of us in thrall to the cult of “Snock,” listening to Ida Con Snock is like saying hello to an old friend.
When it comes to Hurley, “new” is a relative term. Ida Con Snock was recorded over a two-year period, from 2005-07 at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY. Apparently, further fermentation was required, as the 12 tunes comprising the record took yet another two years to see release.
But that really is par for the course with Michael Hurley. This is the guy who gives a whole new meaning to the idea of laid-back. From Ida Con Snock’s opening song, “It Must Be Gelatine,” through the final “Any Ninny Any,” it feels as if we are sitting in on Hurley’s back porch on a warm summer night.
There is an intimacy to songs such as “Going Steady,” “The Time Is Right,” and “Hoot Owls,” that just does not seem to exist anymore. Actually, I know that there are others out there attempting to do what he does; I just don't listen to them. The reason I like Hurley so much is that the rural sound of acoustic guitar, fiddle, pedal-steel guitar and vocals rings true. I could care less if Hurley’s “good-ole boy” thing is an act or not; he does it better than anyone. And his records are as warm and inviting as any I have ever heard.
Probably Hurley’s best-known song is “Hog Of The Forsaken,” which originally appeared on his 1977 LP, Long Journey. The tune has gained a measure of notoriety by being used in the great HBO series Deadwood. A new recording of this classic appears on Ida Con Snock.
One of the more left-field fans of Michael Hurley is the critic Robert Christgau, who has said that Hurley’s music seems to come from “some mythical hippie-utopia.” I think it is a close as anything to describing the feeling one gets when listening to Ida Con Snock. To be honest, having spent a fair amount of time in Hurley’s adopted hometown of Astoria, OR, I think Christgau may have completely nailed it.
Maybe this summer I will go back and listen closely for that fabled back porch of his. Until then, though, I will keep listening to Ida Con Snock, a record which stands up to the very best of Michael Hurley’s 45-year musical legacy.