It was in the summer of 2011 that I first stumbled across a small stash of Russell Hoke albums while combing through the tastefully stocked bins of Chicago’s Dusty Groove Records, which I later learned was one of the very few places in the world to actually carry these. Tucked in their small “Folk & Country” section sat these intriguing looking hand-assembled, hand-scrawled record jackets with titles like Haunted Brain and If I Had Been the Universe that looked positively out of place amongst the more recognizable selections within that traditional-mind- ed genre. With no knowledge of what any of these would sound like, but lured by the cheap sticker price and curious song titles, I ended up purchasing a copy of Hoke’s He Would Have Been A Fine Young Man.
When I arrived back home and put the needle to the record for the first time, I was downright mesmerized by what I heard. The album was a haunting work of psych- tinged, outsider folk that sounded like a lost late-sixties/early-seventies artifact, adding a bit of mystery and confusion to the 2011 copyright date on the jacket. This, of course, immediately sent me on the hunt for any and all of the other Hoke recordings I could get my hands on and to seek out any further information I could about this elusive artist. There was, however, scant information to be found online about Hoke at the time (and to this day, in fact), with the exception of maybe a couple of mentions of his 2009 released double album, The Magic of My Youth. Fortunately, based on a slight hunch and a blind email inquiry, I was put in touch with Hoke directly, a connection that has provided me with years’ worth of enduring songs, poetry, and camaraderie, and which brings us to the present day and this collection in hand.
The bulk of the recordings featured on this anthology date back to the 1980’s and have been circulated amongst Hoke’s friends and supporters in various minuscule editions and under various titles for decades, from the “pizza box” cassette edition of Splashing Onto You, My Children in the late 80’s up through the more recent spat of limited vinyl editions on Hoke’s private label, Unheard-of Records. This anthology draws from the entirety of his archives and these later private press editions, including three previously unreleased tracks, to circulate a collection anew for the next generation of listeners and future fans of this under-appreciated, Texas-based songwriter and poet. With 38 songs spread out over two cassettes and a 16-page booklet of lyrics, A Voice From the Lonesome Playground presents a broad overview of Hoke’s work, providing what I consider more than ample evidence of his much-deserved place in that great conversation of notable left-of-center songwriters and wordsmiths, from Dylan to Johnston to Hazlewood to Hurley. Get in on the action, friends: the Cosmic Outlaw is back!
David Perron, November 2016
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