Loren Connors - Night Through: Singles and Collected Works 1976-2004 (Family Vineyard 3xCD)

Thought I'd bookend this week with two recent releases from the Family Vineyard label, the first being the Flaherty/Corsano album and the other being this, a collection of rarities from American folk hero Loren Connors. According to Dr. William Ferris' essay in the 24-page booklet, there exists over 9,000 recorded hours of Connors' music. Hard to believe that this 3-CD set only covers such a tiny sliver of that, but alas it does. I'll freely admit I don't know much about Connors' previous output - I've heard "In Twilight", "Portrait of a Soul", the recent "Sails" and "The Lost Mariner" with Darin Gray. But "Night Through" provides an ample overview of the Connors' catalogue's underbelly, which is to me is even more interesting than seeking out and purchasing his "best albums" one by one.
The first disc immediately demonstrates Connors' relationship with the blues by leading off with his take on Robert Johnson's "Come on in My Kitchen" from 1976. You can hear Connors humming along as he strums, sounding as old as he is today. The tracks from the 1986 "Ribbon o' Blues" 7" and the 1993 "Mother & Son" 7" are very similar and akin to the Connors many of us are familiar with today; introspective and delicately played. "Saiorise ("Freedom")" from the "Five Points" 7" (1994) is a keeper: a dark electric guitar solo, ever-so-fuzzy and totally harrowing in its sadness. The two 7"s that follow (1996's "The Stations of the Cross" and 1995's "Deirdre of Sorrows") follow in the same meditative style bringing to mine more early Keiji Haino than any Fahey or Delta blues. The never-released "Battle of Clontars" double 7" closes out disc one, featuring a spoken word from Connors' partner Suzanne Langille. The songs start out quietly and contemplatively but seem to grow angrier, with the last track a dense, spikey electric piece...it's not loud, just jarring in juxtaposition with the other tracks.
Though disc two also opens up with a Robert Johnson number (1981's "Betty Mae", featuring Robert Crotty on guitar and vocals), it pretty much picks up where the other one left off. Though the title track and the cuts from the "Exile" 7" a subtler, Loren engages in a real blown-out bluesy epic with "The End, the Afternoon,t he Light", parts one and two (from 1995). The tracks from his 7" splits with the Azusa Plane and Roy Montgomery plug along in the same vein, equal parts Jandek and Eric Clapton. The rest of the disc is filled with various odds and ends from the late 90's/early 00's, some unreleased and some taken from compilations. Highlights are the stirringly beautiful "For NY 9/11/01" (recorded a month said date), the extremely tranquil whines of "Moon Gone Down", and "Peace", a 1959 recording of Loren's mother Mary Mazzacane singing in church.
The third and final chapter is the most intrigued, split almost in half with the first part being compilation tracks and the last half being various, mostly-recent unreleased Connors tracks. It opens with one of my favorites from the set, "Why We Came Together" again featuring Langille on vocals (it actually sounds like a conversation between her and Loren), and it's a real pity it isn't any longer than 1:38. A huge anomaly to the theme at work is the inclusion of a 15-minute piece by Connors' "rock group" Haunted House, from a 2000 CD-R single. And now that I think about it, I have heard the Haunted House self-titled album on Erstwhile, but that was long before I had ever even known the name Loren Connors. This is considerably better than anything I recall hearing on that album, with Loren and co. indulging in over-the-top psych/blues rock excess. It's nice to see that even the most respected and untouchable of modern guitar gods can still get down with it when the need arises (dig the picture of Haunted House in the liners if you don't believe me - don't they just look like the happiest batch of kids about to unload a serious depth charge of pure rock fury?). Haunted House's "Only When You Sleep" is also included, but it sounds a lot more like Loren solo than the aforementioned jam. And, like I said, the set closes off with never-before-heard solo Connors cuts, each one daring to be more beautiful than the last. "Star of Bethlehem" (parts one and two) has a remarkable purity in it that holds the power to move mountains, as do "Stars" and "Night in Vain". There are three untitled tracks that effervesce and crackle with a soft, glowing light and the "For Miles Davis" duo that completes the album. They're as delicate as anything else on the collection, but brimming with speaker-shaking tremolo, like he's has forced Miles' spirit awake and he's jamming alongside Connors on ghost-trumpet. A lovely way to end a lovely compilation.
Listening to this makes me think that it's almost kind of criminal the way Loren Connors is virtually ignored whenever someone lists the pantheon of truly great guitarists of our time. Here's hoping this set (complete with a mastering job done at the hands of Jim O'Rourke and an expansive booklet featuring background information on every single track here) helps garner Connors the attention and respect he so desperately deserves.


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