Various Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes

Any compilation that kicks off with Buffalo Sabre Jim Schoenfeld's 1973 psych folk gem "Before" has to be worth investigating. Lonesome Heroes is in fact the third in a series of ultra-obscure '70s/'80s acoustic collections, with this instalment focusing on male singer-songwriters. There aren't many "new Dylans" here ― most tracks possess an airy expressionism that echoes early Leonard Cohen but will also be familiar to fans of Will Oldham and Mark Kozelek. What's intriguing is the fact that even the most ardent vinyl junkies probably won't have heard of these names, and reading their stories in the liner notes is often more compelling than the music. Vietnam figures prominently in nearly all the bios ― Richard Smyrnios served at Khe Sahn, while Tucker Zimmerman, posing as a Canadian to avoid the draft, eventually made it to England, where he recorded his debut album with Bowie producer Tony Visconti. The spectre of the war dominates the lyrics as well, marking the tracks with a sadness that stands in stark contrast to the consistently atmospheric arrangements. Any folk fan should find Lonesome Heroes an endlessly fascinating journey through a musical era that reveals many parallels to today. (The Numero Group)