TERRY CALLIER The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier (Prestige)

…or “Folk Songs New Style”, as the labels rather tersely title it. This, Terry Callier’s debut album, was recorded in 1965 but lay unreleased for three years. For a first encounter with his music, what surprises and impresses most is his voice. An instrument simultaneously pure and smoky, the unexpected immediate closest comparison is with Nina Simone. Apart from Callier’s own vocals and guitar, these eight mostly traditional tunes are sparsely adorned with, at most, two additional bassists.

“900 Miles” and “I’m A Drifter” are hobo fables, riding the silver spine of the States to the accompaniment of the inevitable lonesome whistle. Between them lie, perhaps incongruously on first examination, the English folk songs “Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be” and “Johnny Be Gay If You Can Be”, although they shouldn’t appear so given that Joan Baez was singing 17th century British ballads on her debut album five years earlier. The latter, in particular, highlights the way his voice can duck and growl within a single phrase. “Cotton Eyed Joe” is, thankfully, more Nina Simone than Rednex, gorgeously calm and unruffled. The aforementioned “I’m A Drifter” is the album’s epic closer, a slow, deliberate, dignified nine minutes that’s like watching storm clouds gather on the distant horizon.

As emotionally charged as it is spare, the new folk sound of “The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier” makes for a hauntingly direct album. Equally mysterious is the way the good folk at Diverse have managed to locate sealed stocks of this barcode-free vinyl issue, which, apart from a few patches of unpleasant distortion, delivers every twang and quiver.

TERRY CALLIER I Just Can’t Help Myself (Cadet) 

By the time of this 1973 recording Terry Callier’s music had travelled some distance from the “new folk sound” boasted of in the title of his 1965 debut album, despite pointedly clutching an acoustic guitar in the cover photographs.

The first side, which includes a cover of Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll”, models a kind of sweet, silky, elaborately orchestrated soul music, not unlike the contemporaneous work of Callier’s childhood friend Curtis Mayfield. Rather more interestingly, the second side majors on two longer works, “Alley-Wind Song” and “Bowlin’ Green”, which add social commentary and the loose-limbed feel of Tim Buckley’s “Happy/Sad” to the mix, the “What’s Going On” to the flipside’s “Let’s Get It On”. In between them, the John Coltrane-hymning “Can’t Catch The Trane” finds Callier’s vocals taking on a preacher’s intensity as he attempts to conjure up the saxophonist’s spirit.

My appreciation of this album is unfortunately clouded by the atrocious sonics of the current vinyl reissue, a Scorpio pressing. My copy is plagued with a kind of fluffy, bilious distortion that covers much of the music like a blanket. Whatever the record’s merits, this isn’t the way to hear it.