BY MIKE SHANLEY
Peter Walker stood out from most ’60s folk musicians because he incorporated Indian raga music into his acoustic guitar playing, which he learned by studying with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. Rather than plainly banging out the same old chords, he drop-tuned lower strings which droned as he frantically strummed chordal melodies and talk-sung along with them. Two highly regarded albums on Vanguard Records and a brief stint as the musical director of Timothy Leary’s LSD “explorations” solidified his spot in musical history. Then six years ago, A Raga for Peter Walker featured several musicians, including Thurston Moore and Jack Rose, playing their own ragas inspired by Walker. More recently, Light In the Attic remastered and resurrected his raga-centric ’68 Vanguard debut, “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important.
The tracks on Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms? were recorded in 1970 and are being released for the first time. After reading Walker’s history and the high regard for his playing, it comes up short. The songs feel shambolic, never settling into a steady groove. The recording sounds like it was done with a single microphone because Walker’s voice often gets drowned out by his strings. His liner notes mention how he wrote lead sheets for the songs, but the tracks sound more like spontaneous inventions, with lyrics coming and going. If he hadn’t made reference to a drive to Puerto Vallarta in the booklet, it wouldn’t be clear that the journey inspired “Fifty Miles.”
Walker comes off as a rather fascinating character. The cover shows him hanging out with radical lawyer William Kunstler. (The guitarist eventually left the music scene to become a paralegal who defended immigrant taxi drivers.) In the extensive notes he speaks at length about his nomadic travels around the world, with several stories that are either paranoid recollections or dark tales of the way bohemians were treated in the ’60s. Diehard fans might get into these tracks, which conclude with an unlisted spoken fable inspired by hipster Lord Buckley. In some ways it recalls the delicate quality of Nick Drake, which is somewhat captivating. But the meandering nature of the songs might not be the best introduction to Walker’s style.
DOWNLOAD: “Grey Morning Sun,” “Fifty Miles.”