Bill Orcutt: A New Way to Pay Old Debts

[18 May 2011]

By Ron Hart

Few acts on the landscape of modern creative music can claim to come close to the kind of free-form ferocity dished out by Miami’s Harry Pussy back in its mid-‘90s heyday. More than 15 years since that band’s untimely demise, the blues is attacked with the same menacing fervor as noise-rock was on the brilliant A New Way to Pay Old Debts, the 2009 solo masterstroke from former HP guitarist Bill Orcutt.  Originally released on the tiny Palilalia label, it’s now masterfully reissued by the folks at Editions MEGO. Armed with a vintage Kay acoustic guitar, downtuned to the depths of Hell with the A and D strings removed, and with a DeArmond pickup on maximum overload, Orcutt strips the age-old African-American sound to its rawest nerve. The elemental approach is evident in the way he eviscerates Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Sad News from Korea”. It’s also apparent in a series of improvised, toxic tributes to Mississippi Fred McDowell and John Fahey coming through an old, static-drenched clock radio speaker that cuts in and out of a Derek Bailey marathon whilst somehow picking up the frequencies of old rotary telephone rings and cop car sirens between their 12-bar chord structures. By comparison, Orcutt makes Jon Spencer’s deconstruction of the blues sound like Robert Cray. This reissue of A New Way to Pay Old Debts tacks on the two-song “High Wasted” 7-inch and four previously unreleased tracks from the original recording sessions, making this scuzz-fuzz journey through the dirt and clay beneath the Mississippi Delta even more essential than it was upon its initial run through the experimental woodlands.

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