The Tree People
The Tree People
he forgotten legacy of the Tree People can be pretty accurately traced to one summer weekend in 1979 when Stephen Cohen, Jeff Stier, and Rachel Laderman, headed down to the secluded Rockin’ A Ranch Studio located somewhere in the backwaters of Oregon to record an album. Originally released as a limited run LP, the record slipped almost unnoticed into the dusty annals of history before Johan Wellens (owner and music archivist of Tokyo-based label Tiliqua records) salvaged the album from obscurity and re-released it on his own label. 28 years later, this long-neglected album flags up the telling historical debt that modern folk, in all its freaky derivations, owes to those early, unsung pioneers.
While Cohen’s voice and acoustic guitar predominate, the contributions of Stier (percussion, recorder) and Laderman (flute) are just as essential. They react to his playing almost instinctively. It’s a good thing: the album’s nine songs often feel as though the group is merely jamming around pretty loose structures. (The quietly terrifying “Opus” might exemplify the group’s sensitivity to each other’s tonal fluctuations best.) Even the structured hippy rumba of “Morning Song” still sees Laderman frolicking with abandon on her flute over the syncopated rhythm.
Perhaps as a result of their free-form approach, the tone of the album modulates between a dreamy acquiescence and a jagged purposefulness; the soothingly lyrical “Pot of Gold” and “The Pineapple Song,” the most structured pieces, contrast with the ad hoc violence of “Sliding”’s raw, steel-stringed riffs and raga-esque hand drum and the deliriously heathen cadenzas on “Space Heater” and “No More School.” These impromptu asides make listening to the album slightly unnerving, but hugely compelling—you never know when the next jarring slide or dissonant note is going to land.
Like the reissue of Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day in 2000, this re-release goes some way toward preserving the easily overlooked tradition of outsider / psych folk from sliding into the realm of self-perpetuating myth. But to appreciate this album from a historical perspective, as the mere totem ancestor to folkies like Devendra, Espers, Six Organs of Admittance et al., would be to do it a gross disservice. Of even greater value, The Tree People is an album of exquisitely crafted music, regardless of its undoubted historical import. Here’s to their Lookaftering.
Reviewed by: Paul Teasdale
Reviewed on: 2007-01-18