Dredd Foole is a kind of godfather to the free folk scene. Born Dan Ireton, the 57-year-old American has been an itinerant musical presence in the north-eastern USA for over 20 years. Having released two albums in the 1980s under the name Dredd Foole and the Din, and played with Boston art-punks Mission of Burma, Ireton disappeared from view in the 90s but was re-energised by the emergence of the free folk weirdos in the early 2000s.
He performed at the event that kick-started the whole shebang, the 2003 Brattleboro Free Folk Festival, and first issued Daze on the Mounts in 2004 as a limited edition CD-R. Family Vineyard have now given the record a wider release, which is admirable; much of its attraction, however, lies not with Foole but with his co-performers Matt Valentine and Erika Elder, whose instrumental contributions are significant throughout.
Under the undeniably appropriate MV & EE banner, Valentine and Elder have made a name for themselves with their lysergic, folk-tinged psychedelia. On this record, they provide inspired instrumental backing that revitalises Foole’s occasionally humdrum songs. Foole’s approach to singing is somewhat reminiscent of Tim Buckley in its yearning for visionary clarity, yet Foole lacks Buckley’s mystical intensity and too often sounds merely confused. “Signed DC” is a case in point. Valentine’s guitar work on this version of an Arthur Lee tune is deliriously inspired, yet the song remains resolutely earthbound thanks to Foole’s crude and approximate vocals. Likewise, Foole delivers the lyric to “The Lion of Green” aimlessly and with a distinct lack of conviction – understandably so, since the lyric itself is fragmentary and elliptical: “Sounds of a summer afternoon/MV channels Verlaine/on a lithium smorgasbord/pick and moan/and applies the glue.”
Foole himself plays bluesy acoustic guitar throughout the album, adding a homely and pastoral vibe that sits uneasily alongside Valentine and Elder’s more wigged out excursions. “Feed the King” and the tiresomely punning “When (The) Foole Comes Out” represent the album at its most out there, with MV and EE adding flute, trumpet, bells and various percussion instruments; yet Foole cannot resist the temptation to overemote vocally, and both tracks are somewhat tame when compared with the loopy urgency of contemporaries like Sunburned Hand of the Man. It’s a pity that, on the evidence of Daze on the Mounts, this senior figure in an important movement does not share the dynamism and charisma regularly exhibited by his younger confrères.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)