Guitarist and singer-songwriter Ryley Walker discovered the 1972 private press LP in a Chicago record store, loved what he heard, and teamed with Tompkins Square to produce the reissue. John Hulburt (1947-2012) was a member of legendary mid-60's Chicago garage rock band The Knaves, whose records were recently reissued by Sundazed. Opus III showcases his exceptional talent on the acoustic guitar, proving somewhat of an anomaly in a city not known for its solo guitar recordings during this era. Walker writes in his liner notes, "Solo acoustic guitar music was adopted by several in the Berkeley school and the ever expansive roots fanatics in the South, but here in the middle of the country with harsh winters and the landlocked prison of corn fields, it was almost destiny that the amplifier assault of electric blues and controlled chaos of dance music came from the South Side.
"Opus III has another notable Chicago connection : It's one of the earliest studio credits for Styx and Ohio Players engineer / producer Barry Mraz. Styx's debut album would also be released in 1972. The reissue of Opus III includes illuminating liner notes by John Hulburt's sister, Cynthia Fritz; The Knaves' Gene Lubin; and Ryley Walker, as well as vintage photographs. ‘Opus III' Originally Released as Clarence Records CR-003, 1972. Recorded at Plynth Studios, Chicago February/March 1972 Engineer: Barry Mraz.
"It’s easy to compare Hulburt to John Fahey, but impossible not to—Hulburt himself credited the enigmatic guitarist as his muse and inspiration for this set. Tunes like “Sunrise” and “Hallelujah I’m on Parole Again” are spiritual cousins to Fahey’s “Sunflower River Blues and “Poor Boy a Long Way from Home”. But as you can hear Furry Lewis and Reverend Gary Davis in Fahey, you can hear South Side Chicago blues seeping into Hulburt’s playing. The album kicks off with “Inside and Otherwise”, an updated version of the Knaves’ floor stomper “Inside Outside” that distills the booming pulse of the original into moonshine. “Freak on the Black Harley” features some cool classical/flamenco flourishes, providing a glimpse at Hulburt’s range. The album does have its dopey dated moments—you can feel the ponytail forming on your head during guitar-flute workout “Freak on the Black Harley (Revisited)”, and the lyrical content of “Guitar on My Knee” reminded me immediately of Navin Johnson singing “I’m Picking Out a Thermos for You” in The Jerk. But overall, the performance is boss and the collection’s a treat.
The Opus III package contains good liner notes by Walker, Hulburt’s sister, and former Knaves bandmate Gene Lubin. Much as the Knaves channeled bands like the Animals, Yardbirds, and Pretty Things, into a few slabs of garage perfection, Hulburt’s version of Fahey-derived picking seems plucked from a Nuggets box of lost acoustic gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a welcome reminder that the crate digging never ends, nor should it. words / k titterton"