Essential New Music: Michael Hurley’s “Living Ljubljana”

It’s a bit daunting to pick an entry point into a career that spans more than half a century. It’s a little easier when the subject of inquiry is Michael Hurley, since the virtues of his music have been very consistent throughout that time. His honest appraisal of life as viewed from the sidelines, his skewed humor and his winningly wobbly warble have all been in place since his 1964 debut LP for Folkways.

What makes Living Ljubljana, a mid-’90s live recording from Slovenia, a good starting point is the extra half-dose of pep in Hurley’s step, which manifests in some gleefully loony high notes on “I Paint A Design” and uncharacteristically loquacious guitar picking on “The Portland Water.” Hurley’s a master of the affective turnaround; here he ponders the undeniability of equine flatulence at length on “Horse’s Ass,” then goes straight to waxing romantic on “O My Stars.” True to the spirit of a man who was once the best eight-track tape repairman in Virginia (he lives in Oregon now), this is an analog-only release. Not only does it sound right on vinyl, you can enjoy the details of his wolfish cover painting.

—Bill Meyer