Without a doubt, one of the most affecting records I’ve heard this year is Joseph Allred’s Branches and Leaves. Quite a few of the Massachusetts songwriter’s works have come cross my speakers here, but his latest is a tender exploration of Appalachian folk and scarred spirituals that hits just right in a year marked by loss. I reached out to Joseph to see what might be crouching in his own collection and he offered up an unfamiliar selection from a familiar name. Follow Allred as he goes deep into the reissue of Robbie Basho’s lesser-loved work Bouquet.
“I’ve been a Robbie Basho devotee since I first heard him in 2007, notes Joseph, “and I consider him among the most important musicians in my life, but I hadn’t heard Bouquet until it was made available for digital download by Kyle Fosburgh’s Grass-Tops Recording in 2016. The digital version was made from the master recording and has excellent sound quality, but the original cassette copies were apparently dubbed to cheap tape and have in many cases disintegrated to the point of being unlistenable on top of being a rarity. I’ve had a few conversations with Glenn Jones about this album and he recounted having to buy his copies in a new-agey store that sold incense and crystals alongside tapes when it came out in 1983 instead of being able to find it in a record store.”
“Even considered among the other releases in a stellar catalog, Bouquet is fantastic, which makes it particularly unjust that it has yet to see a proper release on a physical medium. The spiritual/imaginative intensity of Robbie’s music and his religious orientation came into greater and greater focus as his career went on, which is nowhere more evident than on this album.”
“Though he’s still often considered first and foremost in light of his mesmerizing 6 and 12 string guitar playing, Robbie’s voice would become the instrument he used the most. He shifted from his role as one of the progenitors of steel-string guitar soli to that of a sort of mystic folk-poet, on the previous Rainbow Thunder album — being a conduit for the spirit of the sublime landscapes of the American West. Here he seems more often to plummet straight into the collective unconscious and write using symbols that are unbound by the constraints of any particular culture or landscape. Even when the song titles seem to point to a particular figure or place, they end up pointing through those particulars to a fundamental reality that underlies them,” opines Joesph.
“If I had to pick a favorite song here, it might be the mystical love poetry-tinged “El Cid” where Robbie combines romantic and religious sensibilities to great effect. The only wholly instrumental piece is the album’s closer, the beautiful “The White Princess” where Robbie’s underrated santur-influenced piano playing is at the forefront. Another treat that might not be particularly unexpected in light of the Songs of the Avatars boxset that came out last year is the lovely choral piece “Land of Our Fathers.”
“Anyway, this album is incredibly beautiful and is easy to stream on YouTube for anyone who hasn’t heard it or wants to listen again, but here’s to hoping that any legal or personal wrinkles around reissuing Bouquet get smoothed out so that it can see the release it deserves.”
While, as Joseph notes, the release does continue to be hard to get a hold of in any official capacity, its not altogether inaccessible. The full album is streaming on YouTube, and gives a sense of the scope of this gem in Basho’s collection. Its well recommended to dive into the album as a primer for Joseph’s own spiritual treasure, which can still be picked up and should make it to your shelf as soon as possible.
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