There have been three releases this year on Drag City which have each recalled the ’60s era eccentric folk stylings of the likes of John Fahey and Robbie Basho, all on something of a sliding scale of pop accessibility. Sir Richard Bishop’s Polytheistic Fragments is the most diverse and experimental, at the same time coming off as the most brilliant for its many stunning takes on instrumental folk, be they influenced by surf music, Indian ragas or Django Reinhardt. Six Organs of Admittance is the next closest in terms of its pop orientation, alternating between instrumentals and tracks with vocals, while mixing in a bit of psychedelic rock with its mystic folk flavor. The most accessible of the three is also the simplest, that being the self-titled debut by Randall of Nazareth.
Randall, better known as Randy Huth from another Drag City group, Pearls & Brass, plays a lovely and rustic brand of fingerpicked folk on Randall of Nazareth, lightly touching upon his peers’ more eccentric acoustic forms, while adhering more closely to pop song structures. As such, Randall of Nazareth takes less time to sink in, its unfussed, stripped down sound instantly endearing itself to the listener.
In the beginning, Huth seems rather calm, meditatively strumming a melody that parallels that of his vocals, bluesily shadowing one another in a brief dance under the moonlight. Meanwhile, “Climbing Trees” picks up a slow momentum, but launches into a string-buzzing gallop by the last minute or so, sounding far more intense than initially seemed possible. “Forever Left Turns” is deeper into a road-weary blues sound, with laments of the “same places” and “same faces,” while Huth plucks out a few bassy riffs that resonate deeply and abrasively, much to the contrary of the main riff, which is more delicate and rather catchy at that. In “The Way,” things take a turn for the unexpected, and weird. No longer is Huth’s acoustic guitar the focus, but rather a chaotic, metallic mélange of dulcimer taps and percussive sounds. It’s the most unusual song here, but it’s also the coolest sounding because of it.
In essence, Randall of Nazareth represents American musical traditions in folk and blues with a reverent voice. It’s beautiful and it’s simple, and moreover it’s earnest and honest. But if “The Way” is any indication, Huth is often at his best when he takes a risk or two.