2009: Frank Fairfield

I don’t quite know what date to put for this post. Sure, Frank Fairfield’s first album was released in 2009 on the Tompkins Square record label. But after watching the film about him and seeing him play in person, I really have trouble putting a date on what Frank Fairfield does. His songs come from another century; they come from the earth. They toy with the whole concept of time. He’s an extremely talented musician, whether playing fiddle or banjo or guitar. With an impossibly earnest passion for the dusty traditional folk songs of old 45s and 78s and wax cylinders, he appears to be a simple man with a warm personality. But he also appears to be much more than that.

Discovered busking at a farmer’s market in California by a local musician and eventually handpicked by Fleet Foxes to open for them on tour, he’s since played festivals and theaters and various bills with independent folks acts. Anyone familiar with Tompkins Square can see the logical connection between Fairfield’s old-spirited folk persona and the label’s old folk/spiritual compilations and reissues. The self-titled album was a collection of songs dug up from his own archive of 78s dating back to the early 20th century. 2011’s Out on the Open West offers some of Frank’s own songs, though he is hesitant to call himself a songwriter.

His old-timey fashion, appearance, and demeanor is easily apparent. There’s the hair and the high waisted pants. There’s the ratty piece of string used as a strap on his 1931 banjo he picked up for $40. The worn fiddle bow with loose hairs flying about as he cradles the instrument in an unorthodox way. There’s even the single condenser mic he uses to simultaneously capture his tortured vocals along with his instrument.

What intrigues me most about the songs on his albums is that it’s clear they are folk songs played by someone who has worn out the genre of folk. The songs are old pairs of sneakers. They are beat up cars lying around in the yard. They’re sentimental; aged. His body of work unveils a profound love for the fact that these stories have been passed down through generations through music. It’s why the songs feel lived in when he plays them. You know he believes in them. You can hear it in the subtleties of the tempo changes and the variations of the central melodies. The songs have been played over and over again to the point that they are part of his life and part of his story. It’s clear Fairfield has spent a good deal of his 26 years collecting them and living in them, and it’s impossible to question his sincerity when he claims they are “popular” songs. Who are we to tell him that “popular” songs are not timeless?


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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