Robbie Băsho – Bonn Ist Supreme, 1980

Hard to know where to begin with Robbie Băsho, as he did so much in his twenty years of making music before his life was cut short by a freak chiropractic accident. He went to military school, then pre-med. He painted, sang, played trumpet, played lacrosse, lifted weights, wrote poetry, and changed his name to Băsho after the Japanese poet. He went through phases of cultural and musical obsession, including Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, Japanese, Indian classical, Iranian, Native American, English and Appalachian folk, Western blues, and Western classical “periods.” He “used open C and more exotic tunings and he developed an esoteric doctrine for 12- and 6-string guitar, concerned with color and mood. He spoke of ‘Zen-Buddhist-Cowboy songs’ a long time before Gram Parsons mentioned his vision of Cosmic American music.” He studied under Ali Akbar Khan. He pushed for a broader appreciation of the steel-string guitar as a classical concert instrument. He made 14 studio albums in 19 years. He wrote “a Sufi symphony” and another for piano and orchestra about Spanish and Christian cultures coming to America. He’s considered one of the geniuses of American folk and blues, and yet his name often gets lost in conversations about John Fahey, Leo Kottke, and Sandy Bull.
Although several of his studio recordings are among my favorite albums, I wanted to share this live recording because (unsurprisingly) there’s a specific rawness to it that I love. The master files have been lost, so this is a cleaned up version of a second generation tape, and it shows. Băsho lets himself pick up speed at the expense of precision, often bordering on sloppy, and he sings unabashedly in a voice that many have snickered about but that gives me chills. It’s terribly intimate, and the audience is all but inaudible excepting polite bits of applause. You hear Băsho talk a bit about his guitar tunings, about his 115 year old instrument, and banter a little in bad German. More importantly, Bonn Ist Supreme gives an overview of his dizzying range, incorporating his signature guitar raga style, American spirituals, a reworking of Debussy, blues, themes from Wagner’s Parsifal, and Celtic folk melodies. Sprawling and trancelike.

Tim Buckley – Blue Afternoon, 1969

I don’t really have a sense of how people feel about Tim Buckley these days, other than a widespread unending fascination with “Song to the Siren,” which could very well be a perfect song. I get the sense, though, that Happy/Sad is typically treated as Buckley’s magnum opus, and that not much attention is given to Blue Afternoon, which he recorded in a month at the same time as Lorca and Starsailor. Some people think Buckley might have considered Blue Afternoon a throwaway record made to fulfill a contractual obligation to Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen’s label, Straight. It’s also a lot more approachable than some of his more avant-garde works, which might be off-putting to hardcore fans. I would love to hear that I’m way off and that this record is loved by many, because it’s dreamy, in the more honest sense of the word.
I’m especially excited to share it today, on what feels like the first day of spring. Blue Afternoon is so lazy and honeyed that it feels like having too much wine at the picnic and drifting in and out of consciousness in the shade. Hazed in twelve-string guitar and vibraphone shimmer. Taking a jazz approach to folk, Buckley is moody, blissful, and deeply expressive. If this is in fact a throwaway album, all the more reason to stand in awe of his ability.

Popol Vuh – Hosianna Mantra, 1972

Hosianna Mantra is Popol Vuh’s third release, on which Florian Fricke made a complete 180 from the synth-based music of the first two albums to a piano and harpsichord-centric sound. He is joined throughout the album by voice, oboe, violin, tambura, electric guitar and twelve-string guitar. 
Fricke set out to make a devotional record that borrowed from both eastern and western sounds and traditions, without dedicating itself to any specific religion. The results are breathtaking. He says, “Hosianna mantra is actually a combination of two different cultures, two different languages, two different lives. It has a dual meaning; ‘hosianna,’ which is a religious Christian word and ‘mantra,’ from Hinduism. Behind all of that I was convinced that basically all religions are the same. You always find it in your own heart. “