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- America by John Fahey
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10/10 Tim Smith-Laing Customer review, 15th July 2016
There's almost no picking the perfect Fahey album; if he's your bag, you're going to have your own thoughts about that. But America is as good a choice as any. It's also as close as he ever came to making a statement album. At this point it was his only record cut from a single set of sessions, rather than put together from tapes made in different places at different times; and I think you can tell. As a suite, it fits together much more seamlessly than any of his earlier records, and it comes together to mine all the strata of American music and then meld them into a single object. From spiritual, to blues, to Fahey covering and adapting his own songs (as per usual), to hymns and classical music, everything is here. But for the first time in his oeuvre - I think - he's really trying to put it together into one statement. For my money, this is as deep as Fahey gets.
The songs: definitely some of Fahey's most beautiful guitar here. The two-part Jesus is a Dying-Bed Maker reuses bits of the same spiritual that he cribs in Requiem for Mississippi John Hurt (Requia), but for more serene purposes. The sliding section is heart-stopping - it just kind of swoops you up and away. Special Rider Blues, based on Skip James' version, slows it down and gives it a totally different feel to James' lightning-quick take. Like Jesus, it's in open G, and Fahey manages to take all the blues licks and push them towards something which has the original's undercurrent of sex, but also tips toward the spiritual longing of Jesus. It's pretty weird, and brilliant.
The shorter songs on the first half of the album culminate in America itself. The only song Fahey put down on tape with a 12 string, it might be the highlight of his whole career (tough pick, too). All I can say is that it hits a point where it's so beautiful it hurts.
The second half stretches out into much longer songs (with one brief exception), where Fahey turns on all his abstract, tone-poem type stuff. Glorious. Not half as immediate as the first half, for sure, but incredible. It's where you start understanding why Fahey named the album after a whole continent: big, wide vistas of space start opening up, to be explored slowly and carefully. Worth comparing Mark 1:15 to When the Springtime Comes Again: the same song, but here tuned down, all the emphasis given to the abstract sections, stretched out to 14 minutes. And not a note superfluous or wasted.
It might be weird to suggest people new to Fahey start with a giant double album, but honestly, just do it. And if you've listened to early Fahey and loved it, just do it. A perfect album.
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