Michael Hurley may be the greatest American singer-songwriter you’ve never heard of. He has released music in every one of the last six decades. Let’s let that sink in for a moment.
Hurley’s sound is warm and familiar as it creeps up to bite you. You settle into a record and can’t stop flipping it. The lyrics run the gamut from goofy to literal to dirty - they can be beautifully earnest and downright sweet. He has drawn most of his album art himself, featuring reoccurring characters, raunchy themes, and whimsical scenes. Some recordings sound primitive as if he recorded them in his kitchen (in fact, he put down his first album on the reel-to reel that recorded “Lead Belly’s Last Sessions”) Other cuts sound like a late-night town social or a sailors’ drunken party below deck. But in every measure his voice comes directly at you, cutting through the years like a stealth hippie bullet. Piercing your heart and your gut and your funny bone. He's a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, a true rolling stone, a sage old tramp.
There’s a direct through-line from his “outsider folk” to modern freak-folk – funny, irreverent, charming, and weird. His influence is far-reaching: Vetiver, The Violent Femmes, and Cat Power have all covered his songs, and he has recorded on Devendra Banhart’s label Gnomonsong.
I went to see him live a couple years back. Up to the stage shot the old guy and began to bellow in that familiar voice, high and nasal, rough, and true, worn by travel, time, and a long, prolific life.