A decade ago, a new breed of psychedelic musicians rediscovered Michael Yonkers, a 1970s-era Midwestern lo-fi psych-rocker who had self-released a handful of obscure but highly sought-after albums of grizzly, lo-fi, rough music that defies easy description. The good people at Drag City, in a continued effort to document the lost works of artists you didn’t know you were into, recently reissued two of his 1970s catalog, both released in 1974, and two albums creatively distinct from each other.
Borders of My Mind, a collaboration with his friend Jim Woehrle, was recorded in 1973 and is an album of lo-fi fun. The two harmonize and collaborate well, and it’s almost impossible not to be reminded of early Half Japanese, or Half Japanese leader Jad Fair‘s work with Daniel Johnson. Their lyrics are often humorous yet deceptively complex; the title track and “Story Book Kind of Madness” are, in their own way, charming little love songs disguised as some sort of psychedelic relics. Also worth noting are the seemingly incomplete yet oddly fulfilling “Elaine,” “Wagner,” and “Monkey Tail.” Even the numbers that initially don’t seem very good have a way of growing on you, especially on the epic “Lovely Lady Companion.”
Michael Lee Yonkers, recorded in 1972, is a completely different affair, and it finds Yonkers tapping into country music. Occasionally, it’s quite hokey; “She Can Cry Her Tears Alone” and “Come Along” sound like parodies of the country genre, and are easily forgettable. Don’t let the occasional moments of affected singing deceive you, though; one can hear the legitimate influence of Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Roger Miller in songs “Furnace Springs,” “Donald Wheeler,” and “I’m So Glad You Came.” Also making Michael Lee Yonkers quite appealing are the handful of live recordings. The otherwise-dumb “Mrs. Jennings’ Fruit Fly Field” is improved vastly by the sounds of the children laughing and commenting on the song as he performs it.
Yonkers is certainly an acquired taste, but these two records offer two glimpses into the mind and the muse of a man making music because he wants to, and not because he has to.