Ever since the 2012 film Searching For Sugar Man placed a spotlight on the strange life and career of the elusive folk singer Rodriguez, there seems to be renewed attention from music lovers when it comes to discovering musicians who may have possessed incredible talent but somehow managed to disappear from the public eye. The Coen Brothers’ 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis – fictional but based on a true story – also examined an artist who may have had a long, successful career had it not been for poor decisions and getting screwed by record companies.
Barry Thomas Goldberg wasn’t discovered by filmmakers who exposed introduced him to a huge cult following in South Africa as was case with Rodriguez, and he didn’t fall into utter misfortune like the character of Llewyn Davis. What the Minneapolis musician does share in common with those stories is how he made incredible music that was heard by few other souls. That is until now. 41 years ago Goldberg had left his power pop band The Batch – a band that in retrospective may have been ahead of their time. He thought about forming a new rock band, but his friend and fellow musician Michael Yonkers was insistent on what he envisioned for Goldberg: “Mono. No stereo. Old skool.”
With those rules in place Goldberg and Yonkers spent two days in an apartment recording simple, poignant songs onto a two-track Ampex tape machine. The result was Misty Flats, an album referred to by those lucky enough to hear it as an “unhinged loner-folk gem.” Yonkers used what little money he had to press 500 copies of the album, and then it disappeared for the next four decades until recently when somebody at the respected Seattle record label Light In The Attic – who specialize in releasing obscure, forgotten music of the past – heard it and decided to give it a special release. They were also responsible for re-releasing the brilliant Rodriguez albums, so it was a good fit.
Goldberg never stopped making music and has remained a fixture in the Minneapolis scene throughout the years. But there is no question that Misty Flats is a fine achievement well-deserving of a second life, which it has got from Light In The Attic releasing it on various formats including vinyl. Goldberg never tried to get the album out on his own, but he’s happy to see it finally getting attention 41 years later and feels that audiences in 2015 will connect with his 23 year-old self.
“I have to admit there was a great satisfaction when I signed with Light In The Attic. It wasn’t a joy like a young artist would probably feel. It was more like some of the questions that were asked in Misty Flats were only now finally being answered. What would happen to me? Well, 41 years later people will finally get a chance to hear it. And if you’re in your twenties, now, maybe you’re asking some of these same questions,” he says.
Misty Flats is indeed a fascinating listen and captures a young artist baring himself through questions about his own life and where it’s going. The lyrics are often autobiographical, focusing on Goldberg’s childhood being raised by a single mother in Las Vegas, but they also find him expressing frustrations towards the Vietnam War, Watergate, and other issues of the time.
“I was describing my life at the time. I had no idea where I was going. What would happen to me? Would I live? Would I be successful? Would I realize my dreams? Also, my father had died a few years earlier and I was still reeling over that and other deaths of friends and loved ones. I guess I had a lot of questions and no answers except that love would help me through,” says Goldberg.
The musicianship on Misty Flats is subtle and acoustic, adding texture and depth to the lyrics, and Goldberg’s power pop roots shine through in the vocals. He cites John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album as the main influence, saying he “wanted it to be naked, honest and raw.” While some artists find it hard to relate to lyrics they wrote in their 20s, Goldberg still sees the album’s themes as relevant to this day and age, as well as identifiable on a personal level, which speaks to the timelessness of the songs.
“I get the same sense from the songs now that I did back then. There’s a loneliness. A sense of desolation. A bleak despair but at the same time there’s a real beauty and ultimately hope in the album.,” he says.
His confidence is matched by the folks at Light In The Attic, who have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to connect long forgotten albums like Misty Flats with a large and appreciative audience. In that sense, both the label and Goldberg are looking forward to seeing what kind of reaction the album gets after all this time. And if there’s a big enough response, perhaps they will convince him to release the follow-up to Misty Flats, Winter Summer, which has remained completely in the vaults for decades. Barry Thomas Goldberg is open to the idea. “That would be great. But I hope it’s not another 41 years.”