John Fahey

The Best of John Fahey, Volume 2: 1964-1983

The late Fahey (1939-2001) — virtuoso acoustic guitarist, composer, label owner, sometime Bay Area resident, crank — is as much a contradiction in death as he was in life. He was embraced by scenes he despised (the folkies in the ’60s, the New Agers in the ’80s). With his Takoma label, he launched the career of fellow guitarist Leo Kottke, whose fame far eclipsed his. His style was oft-referred to as “American Primitive” (perhaps because his style was heavily influenced by rural/country blues), yet his very complex and masterful approach encompassed influences of Indian raga, ’20s hot jazz, ’30s swing, and 20th-century classical music. Though his music was frequently elegant and serene, it sometimes seethed with bile and contrariness. And toward the end of his life, Fahey the classicist felt a sincere connection to punk rock and its artier variants, even recording an album with neo-Krautrockers Cul de Sac.

Produced by East Bay-based acolyte Henry Kaiser, The Best of …Vol. 2 is both a windfall for hardcore fans and a superb entry point for neophytes. For the fanatics, this platter contains fifteen minutes of previously unissued music “probably recorded in 1991” (really; that’s how the liner notes put it). Worth the price of admission: the sly, deceptively laid-back “Sligo Mud,” which fluctuates between pensive evocations of rural life and saturnine blues progressions, slipping occasionally into the classic Dale Hawkins/Creedence Clearwater Revival “Suzie Q” riff. The claustrophobically dense, queasy “The Approaching of the Disco Void” (1981) sounds like ragtime played backwards, as if Fahey were soundtracking an attack of paranoia. And even the biggest Grinch/Scrooge-types (yeah, that’s us) will unsuccessfully suppress a smile during Fahey’s majestic Xmas medley of “Hark, the Angels Sing” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

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