Max Ochs and Harry Taussig: The Music of Max Ochs and Harry Taussig
Tompkins Square

As backstories go, this split release featuring Max Ochs and Harry Taussig boasts one of the more interesting ones. Fifty years ago Takoma Records, founded by Ed Denson and John Fahey in 1963, issued Contemporary Guitar – Spring '67, an album so beloved by Tompkins Square's founder Josh Rosenthal he decided in 2005 to find out what happened to two of the players on the album, Ochs and Taussig (the Takoma album, incidentally, was reissued in 1968 with a different cover and then reissued again on vinyl in 2012). While most people associate the Takoma label with artists such as Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Leo Kottke, a great many others also recorded for the label. On Contemporary Guitar – Spring '67, for example, Fahey and Basho appear, but so too do Bukka White (“Old Man Walking Blues”), Ochs (two “Raga” tracks, featuring Serge Katzen on hand drums), and Taussig (“Water Verses” and “Children's Dance”).

Tracking somebody down in 2005 wasn't as easy as it is today, but Rosenthal was determined to find Ochs and Taussig, without even knowing if they were still alive. He obviously succeeded in the search, and not only befriended them but eventually recorded them, too. The split lends itself perfectly to a vinyl presentation, with five songs Taussig recorded in January in Santa Ana, California backed by three Ochs laid down last December in Baltimore, Maryland.

The stylistic differences between the sides are pronounced, with Taussig's folk tales less overtly bluesy. His five are also thoughtfully arranged, being neither too busy nor stripped-down, and are the kind of thing you might imagine performed at a family gathering on a cool summer evening or around the campfire. Taussig's side opens with “Remembrance of Things Past,” which breezily frames a central uptempo sequence with laconic fingerpicking reflections, and concludes, naturally, with “Remembrance of Things Future,” which, in a surprising change-up, features banjo-like plucks and picking. In addition, the somewhat wistful “When Yellow Leaves Do Hang” is as autumnal as its title suggests, while “Into the Veil of Years” exudes an affecting melancholy air.

With slide playing in plentiful supply, Ochs' material is swampy by comparison, so much so one visualizes the tunes being played on a rickety porch near some Mississippi backwater. His workouts are also slightly lengthier than Taussig's, with “See What Tomorrow Brings” clocking in at almost eleven minutes, and a tad denser in presentation, too. That meandering closer affords Ochs all manner of time and space to strut his stuff, and to that end the cut's rich in slide effects, blues twang, and tremolo, though never so much that it comes across as gratuitously self-indulgent. Fifty years on from Contemporary Guitar – Spring '67, this new release indicates that little spring has been lost in the guitarists' respective steps.

June 2017