Omnivore To Release Singer-Songwriter Box Set by Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg

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The Last Word On First Blues, the first-ever box set of Ginsberg’s singer-songwriter recordings, is due out May 20 on Omnivore Recordings (Photo: Courtesy omnivorerecordings.com)

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In 1971, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and folk singer Bob Dylan collaborated on a little-known recording project with poet Anne Waldman, composer David Amram, folk artist Happy Traum and avant-garde cellist Arthur Russell. With Ginsberg serving as lyricist, composer and lead vocalist, the group recorded a number of songs touching on topics from pacifism to civil rights.

These 1971 recordings remained dormant until 1983, when they were released as First Blues, which also included 1976 sessions produced by Columbia Records exec John Hammond, and some 1981 sessions. Now, more than three decades later, Omnivore Recordings will issue The Last Word On First Blues, the first-ever box set of Ginsberg’s singer-songwriter recordings.

Due out May 20, the three-CD set contains the original double LP plus 11 previously unissued songs from 1971 and 1981, as well as demos and live recordings featuring cameos from Dylan and trumpeter Don Cherry and others.

Produced in conjunction with the Allen Ginsberg Trust, the box set will also include a 28-page color booklet featuring rare photos, writings and drawings from Ginsberg’s archives and an essay from set producer Pat Thomas.

Ginsberg was an iconic part of mid-century counterculture and a revered spokesman for Beat poetry, which drew heavily on the rhythms and spirit of jazz and blues. Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg’s prose-minded contemporary, made recordings of his writings with saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims in 1958. And Ginsberg’s own 1961 poem “Kaddish” begins with a reference to Ray Charles. Countless other musical acts have claimed Ginsberg and the Beats as an influence, including bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus

On the weekend of June 3–5, during what would have been Ginsberg’s 90th birthday, a round-table discussion about the First Blues recordings will be held in Manhattan with the session’s original participants, including Amram and guitarist David Mansfield.

The event will be followed by a reunion of these musicians performing the material live. Exact details have not yet been confirmed.

For more information, visit the Omnivore website. See below for a video trailer of the Last Word On First Blues project.

(Note: To read a review of Bob Dylan’s 2015 album Shadows In The Night, click here.)

—Brian Zimmerman



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July 2019
Anat Cohen
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