It’s been a few years now since Hidden Gems’ debut, and while some true RSTB faves have worked through the ranks this might be the first time I can say a true legend is contributing. In the halls of jangle-pop Pete Astor has anchored some gems of his own, helming Creation bands The Loft and The Weather Prophets as well as Matador alums The Wisdom of Harry. In later years Astor has delivered two sterling solo albums (with some help from James Hoare) that cement his status as one of the deft hands in indie pop. He’s also an accomplished writer, having contributed to the 33 1/3 series with a critique of The Voidoids’ seminal Blank Generation. Now he’s dug back to his early days (hence the provided baby faced ’81 portrait up there) for one of the albums that drew him into music in the first place, shining light on a collection by The Carter Family that sparked an early drive towards songwriting.
Pete’s chosen A Collection of Favorites by The Carter Family. “I came across it when I was super hungry to find music that mattered, he says. “It was, I guess, the beginning of me becoming a musician. And I reckon the kind of things I did then are still pretty standard for that life. When not scratching around trying to make some money, days were mostly spent sitting and wandering around, apparently not doing very much. But, I can see now, that all those seemingly uneventful weeks and months were actually where my brain was beavering away figuring out how and who to be. This would involve drinking a lot of sugary tea, going out to bars and pubs to see friends and strangers’ bands and artworks; and spending a lot of time buying cheap second-hand records and clothes. And one of the things I came across was this Carter Family album, not in the original issue but a budget English re-issue on the Stetson label.
“I see now it was a vital part of the jigsaw of finding how I wanted to express myself as a singer, musician and songwriter,” he elaborates. “Punk and post-punk opened up all sorts of music for me; from Fela Kuti to AMM via Sun Ra and Hazel Adkins but The Carter Family felt like a musical missing link in terms of what I wanted to do. It was like I was going to some kind of source of so much of the music that had spoken to me until then – it was the fact that the vocals were non-expressive, emotionally almost flat. This gave the songs a kind of tragic stoicism that was exactly in step with how I wanted to express myself.
And The Carter Family have totally gone into my music – I played “The Wayworn Traveler” over and over again and loved its simplicity, working it out and singing and playing it too. A Weather Prophets song like “Almost Prayed” I can now see owed a lot to the spiritual ache of Carter Family’s music.”
Though it’s a compilation, this is a pretty great moment for The Carter Family, and anything that gives context to The Weather Prophets is a boon in my book. Astor’s second album with his current lineup is out now on Tapete and it only solidifies the pop sweep that began on Spilt Milk. If you haven’t checked it out, read more HERE.