PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Michael Hurley: Ida Con Snock

Michael Hurley is the best folk singer the world has never heard of. Now at age 67, Hurley continues to prove with a new record why it is a shame you're still not listening.

Michael Hurley

Ida Con Snock

Label: Gnomonsong
US Release Date: 2009-10-09
UK Release Date: Import

How many good records are put out by musicians and songwriters over the age of 60?

Think about it. What recent release by a card-carrying AARP elder emeritus of music are you rushing out to hear? If you read this site regularly, then the names can probably be counted on one hand. Tom Waits is a definite. Leonard Cohen? Maybe. Neil Young and his concept album about crude oil? Probably not. Bob Dylan? Well, despite the critical acclaim of whatever he touches, most of us aren’t listening to anything past Desire, if you even get that far. This isn’t ageism but a mere observation that interest in a songwriter’s musical output tends to lessen the older they get. Maybe that is a mistake though.

Take Michael Hurley, for example. His name certainly doesn’t carry much prestige or notoriety. Hell, you might not even know who this guy is. The music he has released in the autumn of his life, however, is arguably more consistently solid in comparison to the records recorded by the previously mentioned elite. Unlike the case often with those other more famous musicians in the 60+ crowd, Michael Hurley’s music is able to stand on its own rather than requiring a legacy to prop it up.

Despite the strength of Hurley’s reliable songwriting, his music over the years has mostly only caught the ear of a select niche of listeners who usually tend to take a heavy interest in the roots of folk and Americana. This is partially because of Hurley’s consistency in style over the years, choosing to stay true to the stripped down nature of folk music instead of exploring and expanding his sound into other genre-bending territories. The small number of listeners that Hurley attracts is also due to his strange past and rambling lifestyle. Despite recording his first release for the legendary Folkways label, earning critical acclaim for his work with the Holy Modal Rounders and having his songs covered by Cat Power and the Violent Femmes, Hurley has never considered music a feasible way to make a living. Thus, Hurley has spent his life traveling all over the country, working part-times jobs as a Christmas tree salesman and more recently as a painter, while randomly settling down long enough somewhere to record a few tunes.

These years, Hurley spends his time in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon which can explain the guest featured on his latest record Ida Con Snock. As the title suggest, the record was recorded with longtime Northwest blues-troupe Ida and also includes contributions from young, Northwest folk-revivalist Tara Jane O’Neil. 40 years after his first record, Michael Hurley hasn’t lost one bit of his ability to write comical, though often heartbreakingly melancholy songs. Leadoff track, “It Must Be Gelatine”, is a perfect example of Hurley’s style. The chorus of "If it taste like jelly / And it looks like jelly / Then it must be Gelatine" seems ridiculous out of context. Although, when accompanied by slow guitar picking and Hurley’s seasoned-voice, the song about a woman serious about her Jell-O comes off both silly and undeniably endearing. Within the unadorned lyrics and music lies a hopelessly romantic layman whom we can’t deny.

One of the most enchanting tracks on Ida Con Snock is "Going Steady" where Hurley wistfully laments the desire to go steady with a young, lady friend. The song’s lyrical content juxtaposed by Hurley’s weathered pipes makes for an unusual result that ultimately strengthens the tracks simplistic words and sparse arrangement. Maneuvering between a time of young naivety and a melancholy realism, the track proves to be both nostalgic and engagingly forlorn. Hurley isn’t afraid of embracing his age in his music but doesn’t feel the necessity to act accordingly to it either. This allows Hurley to be himself -- evocative, playful, melancholy, genuine -- without ever alienating his listeners, young or old.

The undemanding solemnity of Hurley’s quieter tracks on Ida Con Snock are paired with more spiritedly upbeat tracks such as "Hoot Owls" or the childish "Ragg Mopp". These songs are reminiscent of the more playful Pete Seeger or Jesse Fuller’s work on San Francisco Bay Blues in their sheer innocence and dedication to writing a song for folk’s sake. These moments exhibit a side of Hurley that are equally apart of whom he is as a songwriter and ultimately make the entirety of Ida Con Snock feel all that more complete.

Admittedly, Hurley has lost a bit of his voice in his old age and most of his songs are characterized by a fragility that didn’t exist on his earlier recordings. Where once Hurley sounded as if he was keeping American roots music alive with a vibrant flame on records like Armchair Boogie, now his music feels to be nothing but a small candle for the expansive array of music categorized under "folk". In a way, though, this adds an element of nostalgic preciousness to Ida Con Snock that is hard to find today amongst auto-tuners, pitch-correcting software, and the ability to access almost any type of music with the click of a button. Fortunately, thanks to a little help from some younger friends and a steady knack for writing a decent tune, Ida Con Snock is a good record on its own without placing it in any particular musical or historical context. Unlike the records of those with a greater legacy than Hurley, we can genuinely listen to this latest release not out of some obligatory necessity as dedicated music listeners to hear the sounds from a time that has almost entirely passed, but because Hurley is a damn good songwriter. Plain and simple.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.