Mark Fosson – Digging in the Dust: Home Recordings 1976

January 01, 1970

(Tompkins Square)

 

www.tompkinssquare.com

 

As a young man in the mid-1970s, Mark Fosson was fascinated by American
primitive guitar playing pioneered by John Fahey. On a whim, in 1976, he
recorded a series of solo 12-string guitar demos in his living room and mailed
the cassette to Fahey himself.  Almost
immediately, Fahey asked him out to LA to record the songs professionally, and
Fosson did, but Takoma ran into financial troubles and the project was shelved.
Not until 2006, some 30 years later, were Fosson’s Lost Takoma Sessions released by Drag City.
Meanwhile, Fosson had carved out a career in Americana-flavored songwriting and
more or less put his 12-string picking experiment on hold.

 

If you’re a guitar aficionado, you might wonder, hearing this story,
exactly what it was that caught Fahey’s ear, 
what  qualities he could make out
on this home-made demo that attested to Fosson’s talent. Fortunately, you won’t
have to wonder any longer. Digging in the
Dust
is that demo  tape, offering the
songs from the Lost Takoma Sessions in their original one-mic, one-take purity, with no reverb at all, only the
natural overtone haze of a 12-string.  There’s a sharp sense of the physical in these
tracks – of sheer audible mechanics of the way that fingers slide and clamp on
strings – but also a lovely, unpremeditated spirituality.  He sounds like he’s trying, and also that he’s
forgotten he’s trying, in the way that complexity melts into sunlit prettiness.

 

Digging in the Dust revisits
all but three cuts from the Lost Takoma
Sessions
(the first three, as it happens, “Jubilaya,” “Wind Through a
Broken Glass” and “Variations on a Thumb”), offers alternate versions of two (“Frozen
Fingers” and “Quarter Moon”) and adds a cover of Gene Autry’s “Back in the
Saddle Again.” This latter, the disc’s only non-original, is particularly fluid
and frisky, a bit of bluegrass showing through its country-blues licks, but it
pales next to the album’s best originals. “Gorilla Mountain”
sets intricate picking onto deep shimmery drones, its melody tripping
delicately over transparent layers of sustained guitar sounds. “Quarter Moon,”
performed here twice, intersperses sinuous bends into straight-laced,
straight-up picking, its sudden swerves adding a wildness to the clock-ticking
certainty of Fosson’s playing. I like the second version best, a higher, more
reverberant take on the melody, where the notes seem to bend and splinter into sweet
sun-dappled atmospheres of tone. Fosson was, reportedly, trying out different
tunings in nearly every song here, and this particular tuning seems to bring
out the best in “Quarter Moon.”

 

It is perhaps not really necessary to have another version of an already obscure 1970s recording, and if you
bought The Lost Takoma Sessions,
you’ve probably already got the gist of Fosson’s talent. Still, there’s
something to be said for the freshness and purity of these songs, conceived out
of love for a finger-picking genre, recorded as they were written and sent off
to California
in hope but not much expectation of success.  
This is music for its own sake, buried for decades, but somehow not in
the slightest bit dusty.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Quarter Moon,” “Gorilla Mountain”  “Frozen Fingers”  JENNIFER
KELLY

 

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