Frank Fairfield starts new label, releases rare gramophone recordings compilation, unveils new (old) MP3

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Listening to an MP3 of an ancient gramophone recording feels like an oxymoron. To get the authentic experience, you’d need to buy a Delorean, a magical hot tub or take a trip to Frank Fairfield’s apartment to listen to the ultra-rare and long-forgotten shellacs on his record player.

Of course, the baby-faced banjo and fiddle phenom is unlikely to invite you over for afternoon tea. But if he did, you’d be treated to one of the most remarkable collections of old-time music this side of Steve Buscemi’s record room in ‘Ghost World.’ Thankfully, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has opted to share his collection with the world, starting his own Pawn Records imprint, a subsidiary of New York’s Tompkins Square.

Slated for release on June 29, ‘Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts: Rare and Unheralded Gramophone Recordings From Around the World (1916-1964)’ collects rare 78s from Atlanta to Hawaii to Kisumu, Kenya. Fairfield’s crates display an incredible breadth and depth -- listening to the compilation, one is instantly transported through a kaleidoscopic whirl of different eras and experiences, a cracked window opened into worlds full of dust and din. Googling will yield little on these artists. It’s a welcome antidote to the overdose of information inculcated by the Internet age.

Impeccably transferred by vaunted record collector and producer Michael Kieffer, Fairfield and Tompkins Square have offered up an MP3 of Tuatu Archer’s ‘Ama Ama.’ Spittoon and straw hat not included.


Click through to read Fairfield’s liner notes about the track.

MP3: Tautu Archer -- ‘Ama Ama’

‘Upon the United States’ involvement in World War II, shellac (the main ingredient in record production) became strictly rationed to be used for the war effort. In Hawaii, this meant the end of what was then the only local record company, “Hawaiian Transcription Productions” (HTP). Bill Fredlund, who had since the late 1930’s been mostly unsuccessful in the Hawaiian record business with his “Leo Kupina’i Studios” (lkS), finally got a break in 1944, when he discovered a forgotten cache of shellac in an old Honolulu warehouse. He speedily shipped it to California along with other ingredients needed in the record-making process (including large amounts of sugar), and so began Bell Records (not to be confused with an earlier, by then defunct, mainland label with the same name). Fredlund hired experienced engineer Young O. Kang, and began recording locally, competing well with the major Mainland and European labels in sales. The output of Bell seems to be mostly tourist-oriented, thus the label tends to be largely overlooked by record collectors today. However, one of their earliest recording sessions, issued in 1945, absolutely breaks the mold. It was of a Tahitian group lead by George “Tautu” Archer, consisting of a pahu (Tahitian bass drum) player (playing two different sized drums), a guitar player, and male chanting. Little to nothing is known about Archer, only that his first two recordings, “Toreau” and “Ama Ama,” for the lack of a better term, “really cook.” They have a sense of both the islands and the Mainland; of the old traditions, and the youth and flavor of “modernity.”

-- Jeff Weiss