Lyle, John and the Lonesome Ornery Polecats
Origin: Surrey, British Columbia
This private album from 1971 has quickly become my most listened to record of the summer, despite finding it as late as August. Housed in a blank sleeve with hand-written labels, it's no wonder this artifact of the early singer songwriter scene in B.C., Canada remained unknown until its recent rediscovery. I have found it difficult to describe to other people what is so special about it, but since I'm confined to this review I'll try this: "jazz tinged poetic rural folk psych featuring a unique singer whose penmanship is rivaled only by his voice".
In 1970 John Lyle landed a deal with the Vancouver Warner Brothers office only to be turned down by their main L.A. office at the crucial moment. Unwilling to give-up he recorded his songs himself and pressed 500 copies on his own, hand-wrote all the labels, wrote an extensive 16-page lyric booklet, and sold them himself. As his budget was low, some of the songs have a very home-made/demo quality to them. Specifically one of them sounds like it could have been recorded at home, as you can hear him talking quietly to a lady before the track starts. This being said, the majority of the songs sound great and the warm, bass-heavy sound only lend to its charm.
The compositions range from guitar + bass ssw moves (including an awesome, haunted track with synthesizer backing) to jazz-tinged rural folk. However, everything pales in comparison to John's voice. John's light-yet-commanding smooth flow with its shaky aftershocks transforms this record from a regular rural-folk dish into the real-deal meat pie that made singers like Neil Young. Why John Lyle was left awash the shores of obscurity is a true crime to his talent. I know that here at waxidermy we lend praise to the independent efforts, many of which were independent for a reason (and inevitably this is why we love them), but John is an artrist that should not have been independent. He should have been sharing the stage with Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell, and all the other great Canadian singer songwriters of the time.
If you don't believe me, short of typing out the lyrics (which I am almost prepared to do) let the sound clips and song titles do the talking. Rivers of Stone, Deathless Song, Lost in the Dream, Lose, Lies Are Only Letters, Waves of Love, etc. Listen below if you are still skeptical.
As of late, especially in regards to this album, I have felt alone in my tastes. I sent clips of this album to some friends, stating "unknown private SSW/rural-folk from 1971 housed in blank sleeve with insane liner notes, listen within." I eagerly awaited the shocking responses, hopefully matching my own enthusiasm, to no avail. Please let me know if you are into this album as much as I am.
John Lyle is still active in the music scene. He is a kind and great person to talk to, so please support him by purchasing a CD copy of "Bootleg Powerhead" by e-mailing him at penjon[at]shaw[dot]ca or by searching for him at CDBABY.com He also released another album independently in 1978 that I have not heard.
It should be noted that since he hand-wrote the labels on this record, song titles on other copies may vary, and in fact the real song titles as per the lyric sheets are quite long (some toping 10 words). The only person with the other copy I know of has the following in parenthesis next to Deathless Song "Recorded Stoned Live At…". Rad.