Ian Nagoski has been trawling though discarded boxes of Gramophone records since he was a teenager. Equipped with a sharp ear, he was on the hunt for lost gems, almost forgotten by time. With a couple of generations of collectors ahead of him the American country and blues records had all but dried up which led his ears to new and seemingly foreign places.
Some tracks on “To What Strange Place” are reissued for the first time since their initial release in the early 1900s on 78 shellac records, a fascinating Granddaddy of a media format which had a commercial life span of around seventy years, that even today in 2012 beats the current life span of 12” vinyl LPs, CDs and of course Mp3s.
Listening to these tracks and reading the extensive notes from the booklet penned by Nagoski is the closest you’re going to get to time travel. A whole new history of American folk roots is revealed coming from immigrants escaping the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and largely settling in New York, where most of these recordings were made.
The tragic turmoil surrounding these musicians and the very human determination to live, despite the odds, flows out of the speakers and into your ears. A real stand-out heart stopper is ‘Groung’ by Zabelle Panosian. Nostalgic desperation has never sounded so beautiful, but all is not sadness. The compilation features one of the earliest recordings of cover friendly “Miserlou” (made most famous by Dick Dale’s version used in Pulp Fiction) as well as “Vre Ti Mangas Pou’Mai Go”by a colourful character named George Katsaros who sings and plays with real grit, denoting a true gangster badass.
The extensive sleeve notes included make for some fascinating reading and were cut down from 100,000 to 10.000 words to fit into this booklet.
This just goes to show that Mr Nagoski has done his homework. On occasion he ventures out into the world finding himself in dirty night clubs to talk with real passion about this beautiful nostalgic music that may have been all to easily forgotten. Go check him out and experience preacher-like passion that gets a room united like no other performance around. Much like the music compilations of Harry Smith‘s multi-volume Anthology of American Folk Music, Nagoski’s obsession and extensive research is a gift to the world.
Review by Harry Wheeler
To What Strange Place : The Music of The Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916 – 1929 is released on Tompkins Square Label