Sunday, 30 March 2014

John Fahey - 'Rain Forests, Oceans and Other Themes' (Varrick)

Fast-forwarding nearly two decades from America, Fahey here delivers a set of mostly-covers, recorded live in an old church. He's accompanied by Terry Robb on about half the tracks, and the effect is jarring if you're used to the expansive songs of his 60s records. The opening track, 'Melody McOcean' (one of the few originals here) already sets a tone - the melodies are more carefully pronounced, building on tones in a way that makes me think about melodic indie guitar bands like Bedhead who followed in the 90s. There's quite a bit of distortion on these notes, which is odd given the liner notes which go on about the recording process and the delicate nature that was in the old church-studio where it happened. It is a great large room and the harshness of the CD format really pushes up against it, making some of the highs almost too-brittle to enjoy. If this is Fahey in pastel, it's OK by me - 'Melody McOcean' has an epic grandeur that while less dusty than his earlier work, shows a development and the same brilliant compositional ear. 'Rain Forest' is a bit more strummy, and a few of the shorter pieces such as 'Atlantic High' and The World is Waiting for the Sunrise' take on that old magic. This is definitely a cooler album and I'm not just saying that cause it's about rain forests and there are waves on the cover; the tonal qualities of the guitars, no doubt due to the recording style, are glossier and echoey. The wooly transfigurations here merge into a spacious breeze, and the numerous covers make this feel even more alien. Clapton's 'Layla' is the first one, and it's pretty straight-forward as it goes, and I must say dazzling when Robb and Fahey intertwine in a speedy manner. A Moondog  piece makes an appearance, and there's some synth, percussion and bass to fill that out (cause you need rhythm with Moondog!) - it's an odd collection of sounds, more malevolent than Moondog usually is, but with some nice ringing open chords to balance the strange modes. The most curious cover is probably Stravinsky's 'The Firebird', as the second part lets the room ambience drift over all. It's beautiful and fragile; you can almost feel a fireplace burning in the background as the final resounding strum mockingly dismisses the theme. 

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