Hailing from rural San Joaquin Valley, California, Frank Fairfield is a soloist who plays traditional American folk music influenced by blues, bluegrass, jazz and ragtime. Fairfield, a multi-instrumentalist who sings and plays the guitar, banjo and fiddle, refined his taste in vintage American music through his collection of obscure gramophone records. After moving to Los Angeles, California to make a living as a street busker, Fairfield was discovered by the Fleet Foxes, who would later handpick him to open their 2008 US tour. Fairfield's tour resulted in signing a record deal with traditional folk label Tompkins Square in 2009. Tompkins Square released the LPs Frank Fairfield in 2009, Unheard Ofs and Forgotten Abouts (a compilation of Fairfield's favorite obscure records) in 2010, and a proper LP that year entitled Out on the Open West in 2011.
Frank Fairfield is a time traveler. The 25-year-old from California's rural Central Valley seems to have stepped out of dustbowl-era Oklahoma or Appalachian coal country in the 1920s. He wears his oiled hair neatly parted, stiff wool pants tucked halfway up his torso, a fiddle slung across one shoulder and a banjo in his hand. Fairfield is an obsessive collector of rare 78s chronicling traditional folk sounds from the dawn of recorded music, and his own work is an extraordinary recreation of those sounds. Wielding banjo, fiddle and guitar, Fairfield's songs sound and feel absolutely authentic, like the fact that they were written in 2010 instead of 1910 is an inconsequential coincidence. Watching Fairfield perform is hypnotic, it only took a few minutes of watching him for Fleet Foxes to decide to bring him on tour as their opener in 2009. 2011's Out On The Open West is Fairfield's first album of original songs; it's a stirring mixture of traditional sounds from hoedown reels to bluesy ballads. “Someday You'll Be Free” features lightning-fast banjo picking that comes from a primal place where bluegrass and the blues meet. Fairfield's Woody Guthrie-esque vocals cut above the banjo, singing, “sinner man stands at the gates of hell…some day you'll be free.” “Haste To The Wedding/The Darling True Love” features swirls of fiddle that sound almost like the drone of a bagpipe. With Fairfield's from-a-time-long-gone singing, the effect is hypnotic. “Up The Road Somewhere Blues” is a guitar blues stomp, Fairfield picks his instrument at breakneck speeds, sounding like a hillbilly Lightnin' Hopkins as he howls don't you “heeeaaaarrrrrr that whistle!”, threatening to let his voice rise into a yodel. “Out on the Open West” is a pretty combination of guitar and fiddle where Fairfield yearns after his home of Texas (in some interviews he has claimed living in Texas for a time). He couldn't be more right as he sings “You won't find me in England boys, you won't find me in Spain / out in Corpus Christi's where they always know my name.” Fairfield's as true a product of American soil as anything, and his music is much more than a dusty throwback or impersonation. There is something haunting, but also supremely comforting in Frank Fairfield's resurrection of American folk music. And the fact that he lives the part only makes it better.