Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Tree People live at the White Eagle in Portland, Dec. 14, 2007 (photos by Chris Leck)

photos by Chris Leck

  There was a wonderful full house listening audience for
the Tree People at the White Eagle in Portland on December
14th, 2007. Several audience members told us after the
show that they had our original vinyl Tree People album.
We started our set with me and Jeff doing Sliding, then
and Rain, Rain. Our brilliant new double bass
player Rich then joined us on the stage and proved himself,
as he has done in our rehearsals and at our performance the
week before in Seattle, to be a perfect addition to the group.
A new instrumental piece we did that night had no title, so
we asked the audience for their ideas,and they came up with
several good ones during and after the set. We will probably
go with Sunday, the name of an audience member's daughter, for
that piece. We did many songs from the first two Tree People
recordings, and two highlights for me were Pot of Gold (with
its long pauses punctuated each time by a return in unison by
all 3 musicians) from the first, and Grandfather (which is always
a deeply emotional piece for me) from the second. Lyrics which
I wrote so many years ago took on new meanings in performance.

We closed with what I feel is perhaps our best ever performance
of Space Heater, where an extended hold on an open chord in the
middle part (which happily surprised me as much as it did Jeff
and Rich) accentuated the convergence and groove of guitar,
hand drums and percussion, and double bass).
Northwest rock/roots icon Jon Koonce opened the evening with
an acoustic solo set, and after the Tree People's extended set,
my son Abe's great Americana, alt-rock band Maggie's Choice had
people dancing (some very spirited and creative dancers appeared
on the floor!) late into the night.
We are looking forward to many more Tree People performances
over the next few years, but I think I will always remember
this one.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Music Editor Amy McCullough's column about The Tree People this week in Willamette Week

Here Comes Your Fan: Out of the Woods


About a month ago, I received an email that made me think ’90s punk-grunge outfit the Treepeople (featuring Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch) was reuniting. And, based solely on that band’s dirtied-up, angsty cover of the Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again”—not to mention my immense BTS fanhood—I was pretty excited. Little did I know I’d learn an underground history lesson in Northwest psych folk instead.

See, Martsch’s Treepeople weren’t the first. Back in 1979, a man named Stephen Cohen went into “a studio in the woods near Eugene” (now-defunct Rockin’ A Ranch) and recorded a self-titled album under the Tree People name—an album one fan laid down 150 bucks for at Portland music store Exiled Records. “It didn’t last for very long,” Exiled owner Scott Simmons recalls. Cohen, who continued to play after the Tree People called it quits in 1985, says of the album’s 2006 Japanese reissue: “It is a nice feeling to do something, have it sit for years, and then be around to see it appreciated.” But to some, that original was already sonic gold: “People into psychedelic folk definitely know about it,” says Simmons.

Here in Portland, plenty of music fans are into psychedelic folk, and—whether those fans know it or not—they could lump the Tree People’s spooky, hypnotic forest folk in with that of legendary faves like Texan duo Charalambides or British psych-folkstress Vashti Bunyan. All share a key aesthetic: a sound that’s one with nature, whether it be evoked by cryptic lyrics, sylvan flute, hand percussion or experimental forays into trancelike string noise.

So why did the Tree People vanish? Cohen’s then-young children made touring a non-option, and original bandmate Jeff Stier (recorders, flute, hand drums) eventually moved to Washington, D.C., for work. When the kind-voiced Cohen started hearing from “collectors [and] music fans who all had somehow discovered our first vinyl album,” he contacted Stier only to find that he was moving back to Oregon. “The enthusiasm for our older recorded output [played] a big part in inspiring us to play again,” says Cohen.

The reincarnated band—which is already working on fresh material with new double-bassist Rich Hinrichsen—played a “small, warm-up performance” this past Saturday at a coffee shop in Seattle. “It was great to get our feet wet again,” says Cohen. Simmons’ response when told the Tree People are playing Portland this week? “Oh, weird.” Yup, and pretty awesome, too.

The Tree People play Friday, Dec. 14, with Jon Koonce and Maggie’s Choice at the White Eagle. 9:30 pm. $6. 21+. Photo: The Tree People (circa 1979): Stephen Cohen (far left), Jeff Stier (center) and guest pianist Soria Meadow.

3 Responses to “Here Comes Your Fan: Out of the Woods”

  • Nicole Campbell


    I heartily agree that Stephen’s success is well deserved. Our family LOVES his music and listen to it all the time. I hear they say that each overnight success takes about 20 years - just a couple of go rounds and BAM! Stephen’s commitment to the craft is key.

  • Posted @ December 12th, 2007 at 8:29 pm (1 day, 16 hours ago) | Flag this Comment | permalink
  • Oryx Cohen


    Hey, I guess this is keeping this in the family as one of Stephen’s sons. What a great article! I highly recommend going to the concert on Friday and I’m sorry I can’t make it. It should be noted that the family connection continues, as Maggie’s Choice is playing that night featuring my brother and Stephen’s other son, Abe Cohen. It should be an awesome night. Sing a song for me!!!

    Posted @ December 12th, 2007 at 11:41 am (2 days ago) | Flag this Comment | permalink
  • Jeremy Cohen


    I think it’s great that my brother has become an “overnight success” now that he has been playing music for over forty years.

    He is very deserving of listening to (as he always been) and I wish him continued success.

    Posted @ December 12th, 2007 at 10:51 am (2 days, 1 hour ago) | Flag this Comment | permalink

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Tree People live! (in performance) with a new member on double bass

The Tree People is a live performance group once again! We have added a wonderful double bass player from Seattle, Rich Hinrichsen, to our lineup. He brings new energy to the proceedings, using a palette of deep, melodic, and interesting sounds on his double bass to fit in nicely with our music.
The Tree People performed as a group for the first time in more than 22 years at a small venue, The Hotwire Coffehouse, in Seattle on December 8, 2007. The lineup was myself on guitar and voice, Jeff on recorders, flute, hand drums, orchestra bells and percussion and Rich (who helped set this performance up) on double bass. It was a good way to get our performing feet wet once again. There was a listening audience of about 50 people in attendance. We did songs and pieces from the first two Tree People recordings, as well as some new material that may work its way into a third Tree People recording one day. It was an amazing experience that went even better than expected, and we are excited and ready for a performance this Friday night at the White Eagle here in Portland. I will post photos from the Portland performance soon after it happens.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

not one, not two, but three new Tree People reissues scheduled for early 2008!

We are very happy to announce, not one, not two, but three new Tree People reissues scheduled for early 2008!
We are so pleased that Tiliqua Records of Tokyo, Japan, who did such a wonderful job on The Tree People reissue CD, is planning to reissue the second Tree People recording, Human Voices, from 1984, as both a CD and limited edition vinyl record in early 2008. You can read more about the original creation and the recent remixing of Human Voices in past posts.
And two other companies will be releasing Tree People music,
The Numero Group of Chicago and Guerssen Records of Spain. The Numero Group, voted best reissue company in the United States, will be including No More School, a solo guitar piece from The Tree People, in Wayfaring Strangers: Guitar Soli, a collection of privately released fingerstyle guitar jams, scheduled for release in January 2008. Guerssen Records of Catalonia, Spain, who specializes in vinyl reissues, will be releasing a limited edition vinyl reissue of The Tree People in early 2008. These deals were possible because I have always kept the rights to the music in any deal I have done. Both deals have Johan from Tiliqua Records' blessing and encouragement because each of these great small companies has its own special market, which can only help in gaining interest in The Tree People in new places.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Years after first album, Tree People rehearsals start anew

Poster of Stephen and Jeff, from early Tree People days, on the inside of Tiliqua Records "The Tree People" reissue CD

Some 30 years after our first rehearsals, Jeff (who now lives down the road in Lake Oswego from my house in Portland) and I have started rehearsing as The Tree People again, and, just as we did then, with plans to bring in Rachel (who now lives 100 miles away in Olympia) and a few guest Tree People in later. We have been starting with some of the original material from the Tree People albums we recorded in 1979 and 1984, and I have some new material for The Tree People which we will take apart and put back together in Tree People fashion soon. All of the original material takes on a life of its own each time we play it. It reminds us that the original albums documented a point in time for each piece, and that if we had recorded the same songs at another point in time those versions would be true, but new, with the improvised parts different on any different day.
The rehearsals, now as then, feature not a lot of talking, but concentrated playing and intense listening. Jeff still has a that great sense of melody and rhythm, that great ear, and that great ability to find just the right instrument or tone for each musical moment, using recorders, flute, hand drums, orchestra bells, cymbals and other percussion. And as we play I realize that there is still no one out there doing anything quite like Jeff is doing, and no one out there doing anything quite like we are doing as The Tree People.
I have so many years of performing, recording, and writing and composing behind me since the first albums. I have a better guitar and so much more experience in playing it. I recorded The Tree People albums with a road-tested, beat up old Gibson B25 acoustic and now I play a concert hall quality Martin acoustic with a deeper, brighter, richer tone. But in the end these Tree People reissues have reminded me it is not what kind of guitar you have, it is the life comes through it, and I am so grateful for the experience of playing music, then, now, and again and again.
I feel some good things coming, some new experiences for The Tree People, some new music, some festivals and concerts down the road. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Friday, March 16, 2007

The story of Human Voices, the second Tree People recording

If you are a new guest to this blog, welcome! You can find the story of the reissue of The Tree People by going to the archives and I will continue to update any new developments of that story in future posts. But now the story moves on to the second Tree People recording, Human Voices:

Jeff and I continued to perform as The Tree People after the 1979 album was history and Rachel had finished school and put Eugene, Oregon in her rear view mirror. We performed mostly in Eugene with a variety of guest artists over the next 5 years. Our flute player was gone, so Jeff, who already was playing recorder and percussion, and has always had the ability to learn new things quickly, learned to play the flute in short order.

We performed at the WOW Hall in Eugene many times over those years, in live radio concerts, as headliners and as opening acts. We opened for John Fahey, who said he would love to have us on his record label, Tacoma, but he didn't have the label anymore. After the performance I found John Fahey and Jeff in a back room having a spirited converstation, not about music or the music business, but about an obscure Catholic philosopher that they both had read. That exchange summed up our music business luck and sense at the time- we were more interested and knew more about philosophy than the business of music, and in retrospect I think that might be a good thing. We also opened for the John Renborn Group, which was a big thrill because we were both big fans of The Pentangle, Renborn's innovative British folk group from the sixties, and his new group had many of the same wonderful musicians back from the Pentangle.

We had a few women singers who sat in with us over that period: first Janne Underriner, who is now a linguist and director of the The Northwest Indian Language Institute at the University of Oregon, and later, for a short spell a woman named Victoria, whom I had met in art school at the university.

Janne added a quiet dignity and beauty to the musical proceedings. During the time Janne sang with us a man from Los Angeles, who had just moved to a beautiful house on the MacKensie
River, saw us at The Home Fried Truck Stop (see the archives for more about The Home Fried Truck Stop, Eugene's long ago place for music), and became our publicist and unofficial agent for a short time. He looked and spoke well and had big ideas and plans for us, but, as happens so many times in the music business, nothing much came of it. Years later I was passing through Corvallis, Oregon and needed to mail some music materials that day. I saw a man on a cane who was obviously a burn victim- you could see it on his face and he was missing some fingers. When I asked him for directions to the post office he recognized me and told me who he was and how his house on the McKensie had burned down with him in it- it turns out there is more to that story, but it is probably best to get back to the Tree People.

Victoria also played violin, recorder and just about anything else. I remember a summer performance at the music stage at The Saturday Market in Eugene where she sat in with us: there was a warm breeze, blue skies, and nice people everywhere. On one particular song,
"A Woman Whose Face Was Found," we gave Victoria the vocals. She was either able to copy my off beat singing style almost exactly or just sang that way too- I never found out the answer because she soon moved back to San Diego.

Unfortunately we have no recorded history of Janne or Victoria's brief stints with the Tree People
. We also did some performances with a high school classical piano prodigy named Soria Meadow (pictured above to the left), whose mother, a fan of the Tree People, wanted to see if her daughter could branch out into some improvised music. We composed a piece for Soria with guitar, piano, percussion and flute, but never recorded it. Once we booked a concert at a theater in Corvallis, and I drove the 40 miles with Jeff, Soria and her mother, only to find a nearly empty concert hall because whatever publicity that had been arranged either hadn't gotton out or hadn't worked. So we played a long, heartfelt set for whatever few people were there and drove back to Eugene. The thing I remember most about that evening was a conversation with Jeff and Soria and her mother on the late night drive back- words about life, meaning and purpose filled the car like music.

We started performing a lot, especially at some local festivals, with Denis Mochary (pictured above), a drummer. He added
rhythm, color and depth to the music and played on a very interesting looking drum set that was curved and had drums coming out at you like trumpets. He also was reading some of the same novels that Jeff and I happened to be reading at the time, including "Things Fall Apart", by Chinua Achebe. We decided to call an instrumental that me and Jeff wrote "Things Fall Apart", an instrumental where things do fall apart and then come together again.

As 1984 approached, we felt it was time to do a second recording. I had written two songs, "Thomas", and "Grandfather", which always struck an emotional chord with our listeners in performance (I recorded another version of "Thomas" years later on a solo recording and won several national awards with that song, including an award at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas in 2000), and we had several instrumental pieces, such as "Things Fall Apart", that we knew were ready to record, plus a piece called "Rain, Rain, " which we felt put all the elements of what we were doing together. I also had written a song called "If That's Entertainment", which was totally different from the Windham Hill (a California music label) new age kind of things that were big in acoustic music circles in those days (a Tree People fan once described our music as "new age with an edge") . Although some of our listeners at the time thought "If That's Entertainment" was too negative and intense, we knew we wanted to include it in the recording.

We went in to The Recording Arts Center, the best studio in Eugene at that time (it no longer exists), with engineer Don Ross (a wonderful engineer who now runs his own studio, Don Ross Productions, in Eugene). The recording featured myself on acoustic guitar and voice, Jeff on recorders, flute, bells and percussion, Denis on drums and a few guest musicians. Rob McIntosh and Laurie Brown, a local and regional folk duo at the time, added a beautiful vocal arrangement to the song, "Human Voices", (Rob and Laurie, a married couple, were starting to make a big musical splash in the Pacific Northwest but a few years later they divorced and Laurie moved to Seattle. I don't know where either of them are now, but it seems like every city I go to has at least one folk couple in the spirit of Rob and Laurie). My brother Jeremy, a longtime professional bass player in Berkeley, California, added bass parts to "Grandfather" and "Thomas".

We put our hearts, minds and souls into Human Voices, but we didn't know what we were doing when it was done. Vinyl was on the way out then, and CDs has not yet arrived, so we made a limited edition cassette of only 300 copies. We had no real connections in the music business and we really had no idea of what to do to get the recording out to people, so other than some local radio play and press, and local sales of most of the 300, we did nothing. Denis, who also worked as a carpenter, moved back East soon after the recording. A few years later Jeff moved to Washington, D.C. and the story of The Tree People seemed over. The 2" track tapes sat in my basement for 12 years and moved with me to Portland in 1996 and sat in the basement here for another 11 years. But now, with the successful reissue of the first Tree People album, Tiliqua records of Japan will be reissuing Human Voices later this year as a CD and in limited edition vinyl, and those 2" track tapes are being put to use!

The Remixing of Human Voices:

It has been a nice process remixing Human Voices, with Jeff, my fellow Tree Person, who co-produced and worked on the original mix with me in 1984 (Jeff and I are pictured above at Dead Aunt Thelma's Studio in Portland. I am holding Flat Stanley, a cut out character who joined us for my nephew Jonathan's school project in Maryland). What we thought might be the master tape of Human Voices turned out to be a 1/4" tape with a few unfinished pieces and one finished piece called Sketches. As I now remember, at the same time we were recording the rest of the material for Human Voices, we did Sketches on commission from Jack Good, a producer from England who I had met in Santa Fe, New Mexico when I lived there before coming to Eugene (I worked as an extra in a movie, called Catch My Soul that he produced in Santa Fe- that experience and the life of Jack Good are stories in themselves). He was going to use Sketches as part of a soundtrack for a television show he was producing in Los Angeles. I don't know if he ever did use it, but after listening to Sketches Jeff insisted that we had to include it as a bonus track to Human Voices, and after listening to it some more I couldn't agree more, so it will be included as a bonus track at the end of the reissue recording, where it fits perfectly.
The 2" tapes (pictured below) were baked (a process in reissues that prevents the tapes from being too brittle) at Dead Aunt Thelma's Studio in Portland. The music was then transferred to Pro Tools on the computer there and we were ready to go. We were lucky to have two wonderful engineers involved: Don Ross, the original engineer in 1984, recorded the music clearly and left detailed track sheets (pictured below as well) to help us; and, as always, it has been great working with my Portland engineer Dean Baskerville. And with Jeff on board again as co-producer it was a perfect situation. We wanted to keep the remix as close as possible to the original, while using the modern technology and wisdom we have now to make it sound just like we always wanted it to sound, and I think we succeeded in that goal.

Serendipity: the story of a signature of a Tree Person

Jackpot Records here in Portland bought some of my 7," 45 rpm singles (released by Ethbo Music of London in 2001 with two songs from my real life and fiction CD from 2000) the other year and asked me to sign them. Tiliqua Records of Tokyo now has a representative, Piotr, living in Portland. Piotr will be working with us and Tiliqua on the artwork and layout for the Human Voices reissue and is also helping get the first Tree People reissue CD into some of the local stores here. Soon after moving to Portland from Japan, Piotr had seen one of those singles at Jackpot and bought one. When I met with him recently, he commented on how cool it was that I signed the record Tree Person in Japanese. I had no idea what he was talking about: I just sign things with my usual signature that has become a small scrall which doesn't look much like English anymore but has no known relation to Japanese. But he insisted it said Tree Person in Japanese, and you can see why.

From a recent e-mail from Piotr: "And finally, as promised, I've attached a JPEG file of a scan of the signature from the single I got at Jackpot, with the Japanese letters below and their English meanings. The signature looks so much like handwritten cursive Japanese, I was convinced!"

Friday, February 16, 2007

Two inch track tapes-Human Voices waiting in basement

Human Voices Hand Written Track Sheets 1984

Gnosis review, Boomkat review, The Tree People album now mentioned in a book!

Tom Hayes, Gnosis website
8-June-2007 The Tree People

The Tree People were an Oregon based acoustic group centered around guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Stephen Cohen (who had recently been transplanted, hobo style coffee house to coffee house, from Rhode Island). “The Tree People” was privately released in 1979 and quickly disappeared into specialists collections. On the surface it would appear to be just another basic singer songwriter album, with an environmentalist message. Fortunately, it’s nothing of the sort. Rather “The Tree People” is a meditative, deeply introspective work, with a stunningly clear production, that really does make one feel they are amongst natural surroundings. The best tracks feature recorder and flute, such as ‘Opus’ (my personal favorite), ‘Pot of Gold’, ‘Morning Song’ and ‘The Pineapple Song’. Cohen has a slight rural twang in his voice, one that seems confident yet vulnerable. Despite the sparse nature of the recording, The Tree People are quite a distant cousin to the recent free-folk artists on exhibit today. For progressive folk fans, the comparisons go northwards towards some similarly minded Canadians. Perhaps most obvious would be the Vancouver based Ptarmigan, though there’s not a hint of aggression in The Tree People. But the acoustic guitar, fragile vocals and ample use of recorder are instantly recognizable. As well, there are similarities with their French speaking brethren in Quebec, such as L’Engouvelent or the earliest works by Connivence. I’ve seen comparisons as far-fetched as Comus, and I would say that’s about as far as one can get from The Tree People. Evil sounding aggressive pagan music? Not The Tree People! How about a new movement called Introspectica Americana? As is so often the case, due to family and career responsibilities, this was to be the end of the 4 piece band. They marched on as duo, even managing to get out a cassette in 1984 titled “Human Voices”. The CD reissue on Tiliqua Records is stunning. A beautiful Japanese mini-LP, extra thick cardboard, with a full history, photos, etc… It’s very obvious that this is a labor of love, and that the label owner is a huge fan of the album. Bravo.

Links for further information

Here is a review from Boomkat, a U.K. web site:

THE TREE PEOPLE - The Tree People
CD // £14.99


It's always interesting to me when you throw an album into the wonderful (and occasionally lifesaving) Google machine and it returns absolutely nothing of use. Taking the Tree People's 'Some Random Impressions' into the realms of internet searching brings up quite surprisingly one of my favourite movies, the splatter/exploitation classic 'Cannibal Holocaust' - a far cry from the pastoral folk found on the album itself, but proof if it were needed that the record is more than obscure. Tiliqua records was introduced to us only a week ago with their simply sublime porn-themed 'Erotic Oriental Sunshine' series of cds, but here they are digging in the archives of American folk music and have discovered a rare and beautiful gem. Coming as ever with extensive notes on the band and the release itself, Tiliqua have proved beyond doubt that they really know how to treat re-issues and have got to be doing it better than pretty much everyone else out there at the moment. Although you might not have heard of the Oregon based band before, there should be no reason not to start nosing around at once as this is absolutely essential odd-world folk music, the sort of music that maybe served as one of the links in the chain to the current re-kindling of interest acid folk music and its offshoots. With the usual concoction of lilting acoustic guitars, Eastern percussion and haunting flute, the band put together a quite startling collection of songs, songs which never sounded quite so relevant. While the record may have been ignored on its release, destined to obscurity, now it makes so much sense, with its honesty and heart shining through triumphantly. It makes me happy to see a record like this, 25 years later being dug up and re-discovered, it somehow proves that great records can't be kept down, that people will always be searching out good music however obscure. Fans of Six Organs of Admittance, Espers and the like should look no further for a darned good Christmas treat! Highly Recommended.

The Tree People album is now mentioned in a book, "The Acid Archives". Thank you so much to one of my trusted European friends for bringing this to my attention.

from "The Acid Archives"
by Patrick Lundborg, Ron Moore and Aaron Milenski:

"Tree People" 1979
Stark acoustic guitars, recorders, and a variety of percussion instruments make this a distinctive hippie folk album. The Modality Stew comparisons are valid, as there are a number of experimental instrumentals with an Eastern flavor. The vocals are strong, and at times the bleak songs resemble Nick Drake. Not all of it works, most of the songs are variations on two themes (one vocal, the other instrumental), and the one diversion is hopelessly 70s singer-songwriter, but this is definitely something that will interest fans of loner and experimental folk. It's memorable and oddly intense. [AM] = Aaron Milenski

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Some thoughts on history, the second Tree People recording, improvisation and "jam bands"

Below is yet another review of The Tree People, this time by Stylus Magazine. Some of my thoughts on history and improvisation, topics brought up in the review: History never really stays the same, but changes as people's thoughts and references change in the present. It is fun to watch The Tree People regularly now mentioned as part of history because of a series of ongoing connections and events which started in the past but continue into the present and future. We are now working on getting a second
Tree People recording ready for reissue by Tiliqua later this spring. That album, Human Voices,was released in 1984, only on limited edition cassette. We have not been able to locate the master tapes, but fortunately I have always had the 2" original track tapes, with detailed hand written track sheets, that the engineer from that project, Don Ross of Eugene, gave me so long ago. I and original Tree People member Jeff Stier, with the help of my long time Portland engineer Dean Baskerville, have been remixing Human Voices at Dead Aunt Thelma's Studio here in Portland. It has been an interesting experience, and has opened me up to the idea that time travel is not just a science fiction concept, but a reality that we live every day. More on the remixing process in a future post.
Some of the new reviews coming in have a referred to The Tree People as an early jam band, a free form band, etc., and that is fine and good, but from my perspective as a musician and composer inside the group The Tree People,it is a little different. Almost all our pieces had a set structure and plan, but within that structure there was always room for improvisation, so each time a piece was played you might hear some some subtle differences, some different notes, different shadings, different ideas. Instrumental pieces and interludes would be more fertile ground for improvisation; vocal pieces and sections with written lyrics would be more tightly structured, but would stay fresh with different layers of meaning and emotion. Rehearsals were also part of the composition: we would try sounds and ideas out and collaboratively add to the creation of the pieces that way. Performances would also be a place where we would try things out, bringing the audience "being", with their active listening and participation, into the process, to see what works and continue to refine the work. And in the studio recording, which always seems to become the most focused and intense part of the the process, everything stands still for a moment, there is no past, present or future, all there is is the music.
So in some ways we were a jam band, in some ways not. I still find myself working in a similar fashion in my new work: working with good people who are good musicians, creating a structure that we can depend on, and letting good things happen.

The Tree People

The 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, Stylus Magazine