It looks like Christmas is coming early for local music fans! Today, New York's Partistan Records officially reissued Richard Bryd at Little America, the lone, long out of print album by Cajun Gems. The Gems, you may or may not know, are the band that Ben Whitesides and Darrell Bourque started around the same time as their main group the Joggers as a home for a series of lo-fi, fingerpicked guitar songs that fall somewhere between John Fahey and Polvo. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best pieces of music recorded the past decade, and easily on par with anything the Joggers have ever done. I wrote about the band back in December of 2008, and it's great to see this thing finally see a proper release. Kinda bummed it's digital only, as I'd probably pay $50 to hear this version—remastered by Rob Oberdorfer (the Standard, AgesAndAges)—on vinyl. Plus, if you order this puppy right now you get a copy of the Joggers/Pan Tourismos split 7-inch that came out last year for free. Here's all the info you need.
In the year 2000 Portland wasn't yet a destination. Not really. It was a drizzly little place with light traffic and basements full of mold. This suited Ben Whitesides and Darrell Bourque, who had both barely drifted into town that fall when they met. The two soon discovered that they shared an admiration for the eastern inclinations of Polvo and John Fahey, the hissy excursions of Sebadoh and Home, and pretty much anything else created under strange circumstances by uninhibited introverts. Ben—in a vainglorious misstep taken by countless young men before him—had traded-in his Ibanez bass for a guitar, and was attempting to learn how to fake fingerpicking as quickly as he could. Darrell, the owner of a drum kit, had been an enthusiastic bong-hit thumper for years. It was decided that these two very amateur players would try to make some tunes together.
Their template was simple: amplified fingerstyle guitar + drums + vocals. Brevity and melody. George Meredith once said “perfect simplicity is unconsciously audacious.” Theirs was far from perfect, but it did work in ways that southpaws' right-handed sketches work; uncharted territory, explored with zeal and disbelief. Before long, in the summer of 2002—armed with broken mics, smoldering, sputtering laptops, and zero understanding of how to go about it—they recorded two-dozen songs in their basements and a couple of bathrooms (for the reverb!)
Compelled to share their tunes with friends + a few fellow cranks, they burned 50 CD-Rs and, needing a name, decided on Cajun Gems. Darrell was a Québecois, and as every school child knows, Québeq is where the Acadians lived before they were exiled to Louisiana — becoming “Cajuns”. Pretty cool, right?
After the summer of 2002, Cajun Gems have performed only a handful of times — as Ben and Darrell spent most of their sonic free energies playing together in The Joggers. But in 2008 they discovered that newly-formed Partisan Records would be interested in releasing Richard Byrd at Little America. “Really?” They thought. They were surprised and flattered, but didn't know if it was a good idea. But still susceptible to vainglorious hazards, Ben agreed, and recruited Rob Oberdorfer (The Standard, Ages and Ages) to help them remix the thing — Rob perhaps not quite grasping how impressively slow the Cajun Gems could be.
Now, a full 8 years after it was recorded, and fully remixed, the record is here for your casual ingestion. What does it sound like? Spirited non-careerism? Misspent Youth? Babysit the little guy a while and see if you don't find some common ground.