Josh Rosenthal riffs on an upcoming show at Le Poisson Rouge

The label has released reissues, new studio albums. and compilations of seminal acoustic guitar works over it’s four year history, including the acclaimed  three volume ‘Imaginational Anthem’ compilation series. and works by Robbie Basho, Richard Crandell, Harry Taussig, Max Ochs, Peter Walker, James Blackshaw, Sean Smith, Shawn David McMillen, and Ben Reynolds, among others. The label most recently released the 3CD set, ‘Fire in My Bones : Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007.’ Tompkins Square has received four Grammy nominations.

I had a friend who collected ‘Hotel California’, the Eagles record. Every time he saw a used copy in the record store, he bought it. He had about 200 copies. I collect too, but not multiple copies of things. Except for one album. 
‘Contemporary Guitar, Spring ’67′ on Takoma Records.
I have three of each of these two pressings. If I see it, I buy it. I can’t help myself. And I haven’t seen it much, because it is quite rare.
What is it about this album ? It came out precisely when I was born. When I listened to it about 15 years ago for the first time, I was struck by the haunting solo guitar tunes of two artists I had never heard of: Harry Taussig and Max Ochs. 
So when I set out to start my label four years ago, I knew I had to find these guys, see if they were alive/active. I contacted Harry, now Arthur, Taussig, an accomplished photographer over the past few decades. I bought the rights to his absurdly rare lone solo album, ‘Fate Is Only Once’, and reissued it on vinyl and CD. It’s one of my favorite loner guitar albums ever, and so EARLY – recorded 1965 – to be making these kinds of sounds while everyone else was still “Folk” with a capital F.
I tracked down Max as well. He was a boyhood friend of Robbie Basho and Fahey, and is Phil Ochs’ cousin. His tune “Imaginational Anthem” was recorded in 1969 for Joe Bussard on Fonotone Records. So he reprised that on my first guitar compilation, ‘Imaginational Anthem Volume One’, and we included the ’69 version as well. Then he recorded a beautiful solo album for Tompkins Square. Max is one of the few remaining active players with close links to a bygone era of American Primitive Guitar, and to blues legends that he befriended in the 60′s like John Hurt and Skip James.
There have been three volumes of the guitar series, ‘Imaginational Anthem,’ (available as a 3CD box set) and I wasn’t sure if there would be a fourth. I felt I had exhausted most of the older-generation players, and I wasn’t hearing too many younger ones I liked. I remember telling my late friend Jack Rose that I wasn’t keen on doing another one. In typical succinct Jack fashion, he said, “Why would you ? You’ve already done three of ‘em.” Except two things happened. Late last year, I started hearing some really good young players, getting excited again. And just as I was reaching out to them to start compiling Volume 4 with all young players, Jack died. Jack really mentored, and in a sense, lead the movement. He bridged the experimental and traditional sides, Eastern and Western musical influences of American Primitive, or modern acoustic playing in general. And so there will be a fourth volume this year.
I was so pleased to be asked to put together a show (Jan 26, 2010, le Poisson Rouge) for the New York Guitar Festival this year. I have been secretly wishing to do so for years ! Although the label has grown to encompass so much more than guitar, it is a lot of what I do. The opportunity to showcase two young players in NY for the first time is incredibly thrilling.
Nick Jonah Davis from the UK will play first, so you need to come at 6:30. His debut is out now on Tompkins Square via eMusic, and has been hailed in UNCUT and by Steffen Basho-Junghans, among others. He’ll release a new album this year on Tompkins Square. 
I got turned on to 20 year old Mississippi guitarist Ben Hall by Charlie Louvin. He is a hot thumb-style picker in the great tradition of Chet Atkins or Merle Travis. Are there any young players doing this kind of music convincingly anymore ? If so, please email me ( I’d like to know. I do live here in NY, I don’t pretend to know what’s up in Mississippi, or anywhere else for that matter. But I do know that Ben will give this style a huge boost and a shock. He’s recording his Tompkins Square debut album while in town. He’s playing a warm up gig with a trio at Lakeside Lounge, NYC on Jan 25th, then his solo slot at le Poisson Rouge on the 26th.
Here he is playing “Cannonball Rag.” 
James Blackshaw is one of his generations’ best players. I’m really blessed to have five of his albums in my catalog. I am always in awe when I see him. I also think he is a dear person, and his humanity shines through in his music.
So we’ll see you January 26th, 6:30 – le Poisson Rouge. Some of the recordings discussed in this blog can be found here.
Josh Rosenthal
Tompkins Square Label
Tompkins Square, NYC


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