Scott Fagan’s debut album South Atlantic Blues was recorded and first released in 1968, but has sunk deep out of print over the years, despite associations with Doc Pomus and artist Jasper Johns. Also, Fagan turns out to be the estranged father of Stephin goddamn Merritt of The Magnetic Fields! Good thing this has been reissued for the first time ever then eh? On Saint Cecilia Knows.
7/10 Robin Staff review, 18 November 2015
Scott Fagan is one of folk rock’s forgotten troubadours, the kind who have a celebrity connection or two and a whole history of ignored sound. You know how Al Stewart lived with Paul Simon, knew Yoko before John did, and seemed to have some sort of guitar solo friendship with one of the Led Zep members? Well, Scott Fagan is Stephin Merritt’s estranged dad, so fuck you Al. Uh... I’m getting away from myself: ‘South Atlantic Blues’ was recorded by a late ‘60s Fagan down on his luck, but through the redemptive magic of reissue, it’s now out again, ringing in the quiet resurgence of his career.
What does Fagan sound like? Making bombastic, boldly arranged folk rock songs, he was probably a little too weird for his time: he crossed over a more assured version of Nick Drake’s voice with Scott Walker’s sharp, dramatic sound, adding a touch of Simon & Garfunkel’s lonesome hometime songs and maybe a pinch of Tim Hardin’s uncaring balladry. The best moments on ‘South Atlantic Blues’, though, are the ones that suggest the devastation Fagan was experiencing at the time; “Crying” isn’t quite the sparse folk song it sounds like it should be at heart, but the instrumentation still fits -- the bass glooms, the strings barely ascend, and Fagan never quite gets to rise out of his slumber.
Other songs suggest an early twee pop connection -- you’re probably hoping to trace between Fagan and the Mag Fields, but “The Carnival Is Ended” sounds as much a Belle & Sebastian blueprint as S&G’s “Only Living Boy In New York”: Fagan’s number is delicately produced, but punctuated with humorous arrangements, such as a steel drum that runs completely out of pace with the song’s laid-back folksing. Maybe the problem with Fagan was that his music was supremely earnest but sounded kind of ridiculous, whether because of the instruments he was using or the grandstanding he performed with: the record’s title track is a sombre number applied at full force, Fagan’s voice booming and trembling above the mournful strums. This is nice, and I’m glad we can have it now; I also understand why it wasn’t revered back in its day.
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