When I first went to Cambodia a few years ago (drawn, I have to admit, by the music as much anything), I met a young man there who went by the handle of DJ Oro. Oro was deeply committed to the recovery, restoration and redistribution of the great lost Cambodian music that was horrifically literally killed off during the Pol Pot era. I said to him, O man, you’re like the Khmer ME! And we laughed in fraternity. It’s great meeting kindred spirits like that. It was much the same when I first encountered Eric Isaacson, who runs Mississippi Records, the label that’s just released the new vinyl LP version of Buried Country as just the latest in a long catalogue of amazing releases. Eric had been on the road in Australia with his friend Darren Hanlon, the fine young singer-songwriter from Queensland whose own label Flippin’ Yeah Records is a partner in this BC LP endeavour. I’d gone along to an evening they presented at the Golden Age cinema in Sydney. Eric spoke amusingly about his background, his mostly-musical obsessions and the rationale behind Mississippi, and he showed some of the amazing last films shot by Alan Lomax that he has in his archive. And I thought, again, another one! Mississippi has amassed a truly extraordinary catalogue of exhumed gems (gospel, blues, R&B, hillbilly, street singers, devotional music) that make Greil Marcus’s famous “old, weird America” tag seem totally inadequate. I had a brief chat with Eric at the end of the night, and left it at that. Until a little while later I got an email out of the blue from Darren who was with Eric at his home in Portland, Oregon: They wanted to know if I’d be interested in helping them put together this LP. I said to them, you mean an actual 12” 33.3rpm vinyl LP?! Are you kidding would I be interested?!? I had only one main qualification – that we take this unique opportunity to include some material from my collection that was always perhaps a bit too arcane, a bit too lo-fi, to include on either of the two major-label CD releases. With which they couldn’t have agreed more. And so we proceeded to get the album together, or more to the point, Darren did; it was mostly his baby and an odyssey as he trekked over the four corners of the country tracking down whatever traces of the music he could still find. I mean, who else was gonna do it? I gave Darren all the background, contacts, leads and hunches I could, and off he went and way beyond the call of duty… And it was really only the support and encouragement he got from community and family that made the LP possible. Darren went to the Kimberly to talk to Olive Knight, and to northern NSW to talk to the daughter of Black Allan Barker and the family of Maisie Kelly. In his clapped-out old van, he went and saw Wilga Williams in Canberra, and Bobby McLeod’s daughter Natalie in nearby Nowra. He went and saw ex-Warumpi Band guitarist Sammy Butcher in Papunya. He talked to people in Darwin and people in Tasmania. Out of his own pocket, he flew to Sydney from his home in Melbourne specifically to talk to Marlene Cummins for a couple of days; and he secured the rights to use a portrait of painter/singer Jimmy Pompey by Vincent Namatjira on the front cover, and a painting by Pompey himself on the back cover, as you can see here:
These artworks are stunning, just as the album itself sounds as fresh and sparkling as the day the tracks were cut in the first place; just as Darren’s dedication is total, beyond ego (money doesn’t come into it) and even beyond love, into some form of spiritual quest… which just leaves me feeling humbled…
And so this album is not just yet another dimension to the seemingly unstoppable Buried Country juggernaut but, with the inclusion of rare tracks like the never-before re-released “Give the Coloured Lad a Chance” by Jimmy Little, and the never-ever released cassette demo of the Kooriers’ “Sick of Being Treated Like a Mangy Old Dog,” and complete with its accompanying 36-page booklet, it is a whole other entity in its own right.
If you have been in the slightest moved by the previous Buried Country iterations of book/film/CD, or seen our travelling stageshow and enjoyed it, you must investigate this package – because I can safely predict it will take your breath away.
You can buy copies from its official distributor Light in the Attic here, or from other fine online retailers like Forced Exposure, Portland’s own Little Axe or, in Australia, Newtown’s Repressed Records.