Wednesday, January 6, 1999

Further Refinements

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Just who is John Fahey and why are people still saying wonderful things about him? An eccentric yet brilliant guitarist who recorded his first record -- the now-legendary Blind Joe Death -- in 1959, Fahey has a unique playing style that he continues to refine to this very day. His early proto-baroque-folk-primitive-blues stylings influenced several generations of guitarists, ranging from virtuoso traditionalists such as Leo Kottke to '90s experimentalists such as Jim O'Rourke. While these two releases don't constitute everything you ever wanted to know about John Fahey but were afraid to ask, they do provide a fascinating perspective on his 40-year career in the music business. Originally recorded in 1963 before being completely rerecorded in 1967, Death Chants was Fahey's second album and is perhaps the finest of his many records from that era.

The Takoma reissue pairs both versions of this recording back to back and illuminates Fahey's fingerpicking innovations for steel-stringed acoustic guitar. Fahey's striking instrumental work on this album reveals debts to folk and delta blues, country picking and other disparate elements of 20th century composition. On the flip side, Georgia Stomps was recorded during a 1997 solo concert in Atlanta and is Fahey's first all-electric guitar album. Still blues-based in his current approach, Fahey's guitar sound glistens as he reveals himself an enormously talented improviser and still-visionary composer. While advocates of the post-rock avant-garde hold Fahey's free-associative style as an absolute template for modern, six-string expressionism, you will probably enjoy his guitar playing just for its pure melodic integrity.

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