July is when the foxgloves bloom in Astoria, Oregon. July is also Michael Hurley’s favorite month, whether it finds him at home in Astoria or somewhere else. He’s often somewhere else, but last summer he was home, as reasonable people were, which is where and when The Time of the Foxgloves began.
The Rope Room studio, in the Fort George brewery complex, was the place. After several sessions transferring home recordings Michael had made over the past few years on his stalwart TEAC A-3340S four-track tape machine, friends and colleagues—some local, some further flung—sang, played, and engineered what is the most varied, hi-fi Snock album heard in a while; arguably since 1988’s Watertower. Four different banjos are played by four different banjoists; there’s a battery of harmony singers (Kati Clayborn, Lindsay Clark, Josephine Foster, Betsy Nichols); upright bass, baritone ukulele, and bass clarinet address the lower ends. Beloved songs from albums past—“Lush Green Trees” (from Watertower); “Love Is the Closest Thing” (as “Time Is Right” on 1995’s Parsnip Snips)—are reassembled with some new elements (e.g., xylophone) but, lacking none of their original wonder or impact, the new versions impart an uncanny sense of continuity, as though they’ve been slowly but unceasingly evolving in the interim. (This phenomenon is a central quality of Michael Hurley performances on both records and stages). “Se Fue En La Noche” will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a Snock show over the last half-dozen years—“better put your shoesies on before you die of the cold” being among Michael’s more unforgettable adjurations—but surprisingly this is its first appearance on record. The old reliable Wurlitzer A200, instantly identifiable to all fans of Bellemeade Phonics productions, leads the way on “Blondes and Redheads,” where it’s accompanied by a nylon-stringed slide guitar. One of the banjos—this one played by Snock—is joined on “Knocko the Monk” by a sighing pump organ, making a prototypical Hurley instrumental into something disorientingly but satisfyingly wistful. Twin fiddles fiddle on opener “Are You Here For the Festival?”, this listener’s favorite recent song of Michael’s since “The Corridor” (c. 2010).
“Are You Here…” came to Hurley this past June. He was out in the yard, cutting back wild blackberry. It was his second June running without a trip to Ohio for the Nelsonville Festival; it was called off this year too. Home in July to witness the foxgloves bloom again, he saw them torched come August by the extreme heat that assaulted the Pacific Northwest. But time and Snock soldier on undaunted. He’ll turn 80 in December, just after this record’s release. The Time of the Foxgloves is now.