Monday, 23 December 2013

John Fahey - 'The Legend of Blind Joe Death' (Takoma)

According to discogs.com, Blind Joe Death has been issued 12 times, and what makes it confusing is that Fahey re-recorded parts of it later in the 60s. This is a semi-authoritative release, though it's not for completists, which I'm not. As a document of Fahey's earliest style it's good enough for me. We all know this was a unique invention, an American folk guitar form that was set forth assertively and influenced legions. The blues roots are inevitable; most of the Blind Joe songs follow a 12-bar or similar pattern. But somehow Fahey's playing doesn't raise any of the usual questions about race or authenticity; it's a confident and singular vision that is also flexible. There's a remarkable variety of mood here, from the spare melancholy of 'On Doing an Evil Deed Blues' to the thick, reverberating grandeur of 'The Trasncendental Waterfall', whose length and title alone indicate you're in for a ride. Having listened to a bunch of Fahey in the past, there's a lot of familiarity to the cadences, the pauses, and the sense of motion. When Fahey's own voice introduced the last track, "West Coast Blues', there's something chilling about hearing him so young, especially as my introduction to his work was with his late 90's "comeback" recordings (and the time I saw him live and met him was shortly before his passing). The idea of re-editing an album and releasing it multiple times, making no version truly authoritative, is a radical one. It makes the record feel like a living, evolving work with no necessary endpoint, and that feels somewhat progressive for its time, though I doubt it was its intention. Maybe Blind Joe Death is the Google Docs of acoustic guitar records; additionally, the presentation of the recordings as being by Blind Joe Death could raise all sorts of postmodern questions about authorship, etc. None of which was Fahey's intention, of course, but it's a funny way to reinvent this. And if the man was about anything, it was reinvention.

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