Friday, February 24, 2012

the band that fits on a bicycle

It was December, 2007. I was visiting Tucson, Arizona, with the family. We were wandering around the Fourth Avenue Street Fair (a semiannual event). I was bored.

Then I noticed a band playing on a corner. It was three guys, dressed in fashions that made them look like they were from the 1850s, playing fiddle, mandolin and washboard (or was it fiddle, guitar and washboard? I don't quite remember).The idiosyncratic style, combined with the raw enthusiasm were an engaging mix. But what really hooked me was the song, "Sweet Heaven When I Die." That convinced me to get the album they were selling. Funny thing is, I watched for a while before deciding to buy the disc. During that time, no one bought any. Then, when I did, it was like the seal was broken. I guess I was sort of like the first hungry guest at a buffet reception. Once I bought a disc, they all went pretty quickly. The Disk identified the band as The Dusty Buskers.

The album was what one might call a DIY job. CD-R labelled with a Sharpee, and a simple insert card in one of the half-thickness CD cases. When they took a break between songs, I heard one guy tell another to go to Kinko's and make more copies. But when I got to the car and started listening, it was wonderful! It was raw and underproduced, but it captured the spirit that I had just seen. It was sort of the folk music equivalent of hard lemonade. But they can explain it better than I can:
Here is their video for "Sail Away Ladies":

And here's a live version of "Sugar Hill":
So some time went by. Most of the time when I buy a CD from a street performer, I don't have any contact with them. But a year later I decided to look them up on line, and found that they had signed with Old Bisbee Records, and had an album out, called The Life and Times of Dusty Buskers. Of course neither their website nor that of their record company seemed to have any way for me to, um, you know, buy the album. MBA students take note: This is not considered best practice.

A few emails later, and I had a check in the mail to Fiddlin' Phoenix (he plays fiddle and mustache for the group) for the album. It was cleaner than the first album, which I had been informed consisted of their demos. But it didn't quite have the same energy.

Since then, there have been two more albums, A Hypomanic Evening with the Dusty Buskers and Buskin', both of which I was only able to buy after emailing Fiddlin' Phoenix. What I said about best practices? Still aplies.

Of the three "real" albums, my favorite is Hypomanic. It was recorded live at a radio station in Tucson, and released as a limited edition item. I especially love the fact that they did "Punk Rock Girls" (a Dead Milkmen song) and "I Don't Want to Grow Up" (a Tom Waits number that I knew via The Ramones), but in their old-timey style.

I generally get to Tucson once a year, but so far haven't been able to see them in concert (except for during that glorious afternoon performance on Fourth Avenue four years ago. If only we can get them to come to New York.

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