Revenge of Blind Joe Death: The John Fahey Tribute Album

Revenge of Blind Joe Death: The John Fahey Tribute Album

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Overview

John Fahey was one of the most influential acoustic guitarists of his generation, and his impact was felt even by people who never heard his music. Fahey's championing of rural blues masters such as Charley Patton and Bukka White before the "blues revival" made such things fashionable helped save an entire school of music from the scrap heap of history, and by giving Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho their first opportunities to record, he launched some important and long-lived careers in the new acoustic music. But Fahey's own music wasn't always as warmly received as that of his contemporaries and followers; while his dexterous finger picking and imaginative interpolation of blues structures were a joy to hear, Fahey was always determined to press the envelope, and his embrace of modal structures, ragas, and modern classical influences (as well as post-rock noise-making late in his life) coupled with his withering sense of humor made him a performer who often seemed too smart for the house. The Revenge of Blind Joe Death: The John Fahey Tribute Album features 20 performers playing tunes either written, discovered, or inspired by Fahey, and in many respects this sounds like the engaging and thoroughly approachable album that it wasn't Fahey's nature to make. There's no question that the performers here love and respect Fahey's work, and there's some truly stellar picking, especially from Peter Lang, Dale Miller, Terry Robb, and David Doucet. A few artists contribute original pieces, most notably Stefan Grossman's "The Assassination of John Fahey" (a witty tribute to Fahey's "The Assassination of Stefan Grossman"), and Country Joe McDonald's "Thinking of John Fahey," an homage to Fahey's slide technique, while others offer strongly distinct takes on Fahey's material. It's doubtful that anyone was expecting George Winston to contribute a solo harmonica piece, while Henry Kaiser and John Schott filter their number through their very electrified sensibilities and Canned Fish, featuring members of Canned Heat and Country Joe & the Fish, turn "Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Phillip XIV of Spain" into a loud and joyous jug band stomp. But the sense of creative adventure and musical risk that was so much a part of John Fahey's music is largely missing, and a number of the guitarists here offer renditions that are so close to the sound and style of the original that they seem almost pointless except as a show of technique, something Fahey didn't much value in and of itself. The Revenge of Blind Joe Death is a well-intentioned labor of love, but its polished surfaces lack the edgy textures that were so important to Fahey's work; too bad Fahey isn't around to issue his response.

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