Some Forgotten Country opens with picket-fence guitar, Harry Smith banjo, and a bluesman spitting marbles: "Going to Atlanta just to look around . . ."
I've heard this stoned baritone before, almost 40 years ago. He's the willing trucker "smuggling smokes and folks from Mexico," the strung-out hillbilly "with a needle and a spoon," the back-alley drunk pleading for "Available Space."
The baritone disappeared around '72 or so. After that, the American troubadour split in two: the traditionalist and the lysergic freak. Each one has never been anything more than half a man, pumping out a lot of really incomplete music.
This is why Some Forgotten Country sounds so needed in 2007. Currently living in New York and calling himself D. Charles Speer, the baritone has returned, bringing the total musician back to life. Culling his backing band from Sunburned Hand of the Man and NNCK, Speer wanders America in both words and sound.
"You and old/North and south/People all know the white guy's a louse," he cryptically chews on the hilltop sermon "Stingray Leather."
When Speer falls silent, his rustic unit, augmented with phantom lap steel and Butterfield's electric axe, ventures where lyrics can't, painting sparse but sweeping landscapes that stretch from '60s San Francisco to archaic Appalachia.
Who knows how long the baritone will stick around? But it feels damn good to have him back.