John Fahey has been recommended to me enough times that I’ve lost count, and has been cited as an influence by a decent chunk of the bands in my listening library, and yet, though I’ve had The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death for ages now, it’s taken me an absurd amount of time to properly listen to it. The only explanation that can be offered is that, like many a critic can – and, truthfully, should – it’s perhaps too easy easy to get wrapped up in one’s own listening process and discovery method, and to be a little stubborn about breaking from it. Now that fall is being obstinate about its arrival, it finally felt like the right time for Fahey (and it probably helps, too, that Skip James has been making his rounds on nearby speakers).
Unsurprisingly, there’s no shortage of things about Fahey that bowl me over. I could certainly talk about all the technical aspects, his love for old blues, modern classical composers (i.e. Bartok) and foreign song form, all the things that should’ve tipped me off that I would like him before I even had to push “play.” But what gets me most about Fahey is how much he communicates with just the guitar. As a product of modern times, it’s easy to get caught up in modern styles, full bands, singers and the like, regardless of how much one might like other forms and genres. When most of what you hear took several people to create, sometimes you need a reminder of how much just one person can do with just one instrument.
Fahey creates such an intense and specific sentiment with his guitar that it makes you wonder if some bands aren’t getting off too easy for doing too little. Pretty much any song from The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death can be used as an example, but “On the Sunny Side of the Ocean” sounds the most suited to discussion. (The Transfiguration… is the only Fahey I have right now, so recommendations of other albums are welcome.)
The title acts as a guide, in a way. The song is everything one might envision – the rays of the sun touching upon everything in its expanse, the ripples of the water, the birds in the sky, the boat scooting along the horizon. But even without considering the direction he’s hinted the mind to move in, there’s that same relaxed and soothing setting, tinged with a curiosity for the unknown and out of reach.