By **William Brewer**
One month ago, on a tip from a friend, I purchased the re-released LP of Abner Jay’s The True Story of Abner Jay. Ever since, I’ve played that record into oblivion.
Abner Jay, an American blues-roots musician active in the ninteen fifties and sixties, remained criminally insignificant during his lifetime. Straddling the line of “outsider music,” this heart wrenching one-man-band was rescued from obscurity by the venerable Mississippi Records, a Portland-based “vinyl only” label that specializes in digging up and preserving wonderful but undiscovered American and World music in reissue compilations. Since its re-release late last year, The True Story has garnered Jay newfound and well-deserved critical attention.
The True Story of Abner Jay is an eerie collection of traditional Pentecostal gospel songs juxtaposed with, or bastardized by such songs as “Cocaine,” “I’m So Depressed” and “Vietnam,” arguably the most profound songs of the album. Jay’s thick, powerful lyrics underscore the minimal style of his humble instrumentation remarkably.
Mississippi’s interest in Jay seems to have been from an anthropological perspective. Punctuating his lyrics is a sincere and child-like perspective of a poor man from the Deep South, caught in the gears of war, religion, and modernity:
We had nothing / we had nothing / but grasshoppers / I am a boy so full of love / I have no one to hold my hand.
Jay seems to have come straight out of a James Baldwin novel, and this is why, much to the chagrin of my housemates, I refuse to stop listening to his abrasive, rattling cymbal and cracking, warbling voice.
William Brewer is an intern at Guernica. Read his last recommendation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita here.