John Fahey: Days Gone By: Volume 8 (Takoma)
To fans of outside music, Fahey - today - hardly needs any
introduction. Yet, it might (still) be worthwhile to present my
particular take...given that I actually “discovered” him via his
connections to archaic blues, back in the early 80s...independently of
the 90s underground. You know, back when original Takoma vinyl,
although not particularly common, went at bargain basement
prices...and he was basically forgotten...
Fahey’s crucial period, arguably, ran from the original “Blind Joe
Death” to “The Yellow Princess”...w/every damn album a classic.
Particular peaks include the first four - wherein his unique take on
Charley Patton (and “hiart” arrangement) via Mississippi John Hurt
gradually complexified, taking in some more experimental collage
techniques along the way - reaching a genuinely psychedelic peak on
1966’s “The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party” - as well as the key
roots/mythology moment of 1968’s “The Voice of the Turtle”...and this
- probably his most masterful set - in 1967.
One thing people unfamiliar w/Fahey’s sources don’t seem to hear is
the way his attack broadened over those years. He was always a hard
plucker (no pick for him!) - certainly the hardest on acoustic guitar
of his day - but, when you listen back to his earliest stuff, the
patterning is clearly based upon Hurt, whereas, by “Days Gone By” he’s
much more akin to a “hiart” - his term - take on his idol, the great
Charley Patton. Tearingly physical strumming/picking dominates -
albeit, interspersed w/achingly delicate interludes - while his aural
collage work has, quite simply, never been better integrated.
To be sure, there are other peaks. Should you be enamoured of studio
gloss, his pair for Vanguard in the late 60s - around his stylistic
highpoint - will undoubtedly be the winners. On the other hand, if
soloists get your goat, the - sadly under-rated - trilogy credited to
“John Fahey & his Orchestra” in the 70s should be your first port of
call, “Old Fashioned Love” being my favourite...
And yet, this one - perhaps uniquely - has touches of them all. “My
Grandfather’s Clock” - a lovely 19th C. parlour tune - for example, is
one of his earliest group pieces, whilst the title track combines a
subtly weird production w/vocal encouragement, in a way that
foreshadows “The Voice of the Turtle”.
Moreover...unlike any other, “Days Have Gone By” effortlessly shifts
from the unadorned opening - via masterfully integrated reverb effects
- and through bizarre collage additions - into a group interlude, then
back to an unadorned, albeit beautifully spacial/time-stopping, close
- a harmonic cover of Sibelius’ “Finlandia” (believe it or not).
Now...should your ears be open, and yet unfamiliar w/Fahey’s unique
mastery, I would suggest that this, indeed, is perhaps the very best
place to start...opithalamium & all...
John Henry Calvinist