BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Carmaig De Forest was something of an eccentric back in the day, off even by the standards of someone who lived in San Francisco and openly laid claim to the city’s insurgent roots. A ukelele-playing troubadour who sprouted songs dealing with all sorts of weird wonderment, he managed to attract the attention of none other than Alex Chilton, something of a renegade himself and an artist who was decidedly oblique when it came to expressing his own doleful designs.
In 1987, the two teamed up to record De Forest’s first — and to date, only — full length album, I Shall Be Released, a collection of absurdist songs that not only missed out on the mainstream, but generally avoided notice entirely. Originally intended for a major label release, it was unceremoniously neglected and ultimately relegated to a small local label that confined it to obscurity. A live EP followed, but by then it was too late. De Forest’s destiny was doomed, and he remained known only to a handful of devotees and fellow musicians.
I Shall Be Re-Released captures De Forest’s entire output — the original album, the live EP and several outtakes from the original sessions — and although it remains a curiosity, it should also enhance his notoriety. Then again, having Chilton at the helm didn’t do much in terms of expanding his accessibility option, and if anything, the quirkiness quotient was given full prominence. A tune titled “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat” and the likeminded “Hey Judas,” a song about an encounter in hell with Judas, Hitler and then-president Ronald Reagan, didn’t have any chance of hitting the hit parade any time soon. While De Forest’s kinetic conceits and loopy, loping power plod were charming on occasion, the music is clearly far too wacky to be taken seriously for any sustained amount of time.
Still, with a generous 26 tracks included on this expansive set, I Shall Be Re-Released offers the listener plenty of opportunity to get in the groove. And with questionable covers of “Secret Agent Man,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “One For My Baby (And One For The Road),” it offers at least some hint of a familiarity factor. A curious snapshot of labored looniness from thirty years past, I Shall Be Re-Released proves at very least, to be a liberating libation.
DOWNLOAD: “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat,” “Hey Judas,” “Secret Agent Man”