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- Volume I: Blind Joe Death by John Fahey
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9/10 Tim Smith-Laing Customer review, 1st October 2015
This is the great Fahey's first album. Originally laid down on his own dime in 1959, John Fahey/Blind Joe Death was a quiet entry into the market: Fahey sold some copies from the Esso station where he was night manager, put others in thrift store record bins, gave them to friends. It still took three years to sell out of the 100 copies. Originally side one was credited to his fictional blues mentor - Blind Joe - and side two to Fahey himself. It took plenty of people in, as Fahey was already a well-known collector and dealer of old blues 78s. He did actually go on to rediscover two important old bluesmen - Skip James and Bukka White - but Blind Joe Death was very much his invention, and would be a continuing presence in the mythmaking he kept up for most of his career.
Faheyites will note that this isn't actually the original 59 recording - which is fuzzier, has a slightly different tracklisting, and contains different versions of some key tracks. Generally, on this recording (from 62, I think) the tone is brighter and sharper, and the playing 'cleaner'. It's down to taste which you prefer: frankly both are astonishing, on repeated listens. Side one is home to the straighter fare in the old fingerpicking style, though inflected with Fahey's signature rhythmic ticks. Versions of standards like John Henry and In Christ There Is No East Or West are Fahey classics: he is a man who makes old things new. On side two, The Transcendental Waterfall, introduces the kind of long-form experimentation that pays off in his 70s albums. The rest are shorter, but perhaps even stranger. Sligo River Blues is a particular standout: a ragtime number that sounds like a melancholy man's cover of Scott Joplin's Entertainer. It's preceded by Sun Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday Blues, an old title for a new song: a driving, mournful number designed to chime ironically with its title. Brilliant.
There are plenty of places to start with Fahey. This is not his most immediate album, but it's still one of his best. The 9/10 is a rating on the Fahey scale, where 10 is for albums like Fare Foreward Voyagers, America, or The Dance of Death. In other words, highly recommended.
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