Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Michael Hurley
Armchair Boogie

Released 1971 on Raccoon Records
Reviewed by Richard, 21/03/2000ce

Never was a record more aptly named, for a kick-off. Proof positive laid-back does NOT equal boring. But oh dear, where are my manners? For the uninitiated, Michael Hurley (aka Elwood Snock, Doc Snock, Hi Fi Snock, the Horrible Horrible Pearly Snock Man or simply The Snock) is one of the most shamefully neglected artists of any era; a singer/songwriter whose style, despite evidence of vestiges of folk, jazz, blues, country and rock'n'roll, is all his own, though in an unguarded moment he once confessed to playing 'the baroque blues'. 'Armchair Boogie' was his second LP. Me, I reckon it's rather fine. Here's why.

'Werewolf' is unquestionably Michael's most famous song. It'd appeared on his debut and has done so on other records since; who's to say it won't crop up again? I for one won't object if it does. The version that opens Side 1 of this recording is one of the best versions, a duet with Rube The Card aka the great Robin Remailly on fiddle that reminds this here listener of nothing so much as a hillbilly version of 'The Black Angel's Death Song' as done live by Reed and Cale in Paris in 1972. You follow? Like Reed, Hurley is the very personification of that gosh-darned fine line between the deadly serious and the utterly hilarious. Dismiss him as either at your peril. Part of the charm of 'Armchair Boogie' rests in its being recorded in the Snock's bedroom. Sounds as if he's right there in your living room playing just for you. Lumpen piano and playful bass help to propel such tunes as 'Grand Canyon Line' and 'Get The Best Of Me' in lugubrious fashion and the wondrously named Pasta Saco adds a cute harmony to Michael's lead on the truly contemplative and downright lascivious 'Open Up (Eternal Lips)', another Snock classic subsequently re-recorded.

But my favourites are the solo performances such as 'Light Green Fellow'; someone once told me it sounded like Nick Drake. Bit wide of the mark, I'd say; for starters that criminally over-rated performer never touched the heights scaled by the Snock, not in my book any road. Then there's 'English Nobleman', featuring a Snock mock-English accent that sounds like The Singing Postman and containing the revelation that said nobleman's 'dignity would be besmirched/if you hit me in the face with a pie'. Terrific. By utter contrast 'Troubled Waters' is a tale of dark resignation to one's fate in the light of one's true love going pear-shaped and recalls the quirky craft of the great Robin Williamson as much as anything. Then you have the inimitable 'Sweedeedee' as referred to by Julian Cope during the course of 'Planet Ride' off 'St. Julian' and featuring Earthquake Anderson on the mouth organ. This song cannot be over-praised, it's that good. So is 'When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano', originally performed all those years ago by Gene Autry and The 5 Satins, amongst others. There are even those as would argue that this LP saves the best till last, namely the instrumental gem 'Penguins', with Michael Kane's cornet harmonizing so, so sweetly with the Snock's mock trumpet on this delightfully lilting finale. None of this even takes into account the enigmatic solo guitar piece Ravager's Reel' or the sublime and heartfelt tale of a dog's blues that is 'Jocko's Lament'.

To wrap up, I'd have to say 'Armchair Boogie' is one of the most effective and enjoyable relaxant/stimulants I've ever used. Whenever the world or whatever gets on my case I bung it on and time goes all elastic on me and I feel an overwhelming need to nibble or guzzle something nice in the company of someone even nicer. Not many other products I feel I can endorse in such a fashion, to be frank. Michael Hurley is one in a zillion and this is just one of the great records he's done down the years. If you don't know his stuff then go remedy. And if I'm preaching to the converted here, well pardon me, as Bob Mitchum said in the crap remake of 'Cape Fear', all over the place.

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