I Am the Resurrection
A Tribute to John Fahey
The late acoustic guitar innovator John Fahey may have only amassed a cult following during his long career but as this tribute demonstrates, his influence today runs deep. Moreover, since his idiosyncratic, eclectic work did not receive wide exposure while he was alive and since it is so open to re-interpretation, there is much enjoyment in discovering or re-discovering this music for listeners and musicians alike.
Country-folk iconoclast M. Ward produced and assembled the tribute primarily from artists from the indie rock and indie folk worlds. The results are nearly as diverse as Fahey’s career. The record makes room for both neo-folk hippie Devandra Banhart (covering “Sligo River Blues”) and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo (interpreting the experimental weirdness of “The Singing Bridge of Memphis, Tennessee (Brooklyn Bridge Version: The Coelacanth)”). Gotta love those long, confusing song titles. Sandwiched between them is Tucson, Arizona’s Calexico. Their evocative, haunting take on “Dance of Death” shifts between movements and variations on a theme, some more alien than others.
Indeed this music often transports you to unknown realms. Lap steel guitar takes on a Far Eastern sound on “Joe Kirby Blues.” The Richmond, Virginia trio Pelt offers a familiar but strange, wobbly, off-kilter banjo breakdown on “Sunflower River Blues.” Jason Q. Lytle of Grandaddy offers his take on “Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Phillip XIV of Spain.” The song initially sounds like it comes from some tradition, but then it takes off to some other planet. Chicago’s Cul de Sac uses hypnotic chording interrupted by bursts of odd noises on “The Portland Cement Factory at Monmouth, Georgia.”
Elsewhere, Sufjan Stevens brings along his usual meticulously-arranged, full-blown DIY production. “Transfiguration and Communion at Magruder Park” features recorders, flutes, oboe, banjo, guitars and drums. Ex-Plimsoul turned folkie Peter Case conveys the pretty melody of “When the Catfish is in Bloom” while admirably tackling the oddball time signatures and impossible to play chords. Howe Gelb offers a jaunty piano take on “My Grandfather’s Clock” and M. Ward himself takes on the rollicking “Bean Vine Blues #2.”
Some of the tracks here are admittedly more impenetrable than others. Some sound too much like noodling. A couple of tracks (and indeed the album as a whole) go on too long as well. But this tribute provides plenty of exciting avenues to explore in the catalog of a peculiar and gifted artist.
Vanguard Records: www.vanguardrecords.com