Various artists’ I Am The Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey

cover art for I Am the ResurrectionJohn Fahey was an immensely influential musician. He collected old blues records and helped revive interest in the Delta masters in the early 1960s. He started his own record label on which he recorded his own unique take on Delta blues, popularizing a rigorous style of finger-picking and use of odd open tunings. Other guitarists such as Leo Kottke got their start on his Takoma label. His modal instrumental style influenced numerous other musicians who went on to great popularity in what became New Age music. And his unswerving determination to follow his muse down sometimes twisted paths continues to inspire generation after generation of alternative musicians, from noise-rockers like Sonic Youth to neo-folkies like Sufjan Stevens.

I feel a certain connection to Fahey, although I don’t have a big collection of his records or play guitar beyond a certain amateurish strumming. But Fahey lived out his final years in the town where I work every day, and often hung out at the coffee house where I still buy my coffee and tea. The Fahey recordings I do have confuse me as often as they delight me, with their odd tunings, odder titles and often droning repetitiveness. He was an artist who reveled in making his listeners uncomfortable.

Another musician who has made Oregon his adopted home, M. Ward, co-executive produced this tribute with Stephen Brower. It’s a superb tribute, that rarity among tributes in which not one track stands out as superfluous or substandard. The 13 tracks were contributed by some of the biggest names in alternative music today.

On first listen, what struck me is that nearly all of these musicians used a full band to capture what Fahey did with just his guitar. This approach could open up Fahey’s music for some folks, particularly those who wouldn’t sit down and listen to a whole album of guitar instrumentals. That, of course, is the agenda of this type of tribute album, to point fans of today’s artists to this other musician who is so well respected by his fellow artists.

There’s just a wealth of great music here, from the first track, the Fruit Bats’ full-band treatment of “Death of the Clayton Peacock” to Howe Gelb’s closing track, a solo piano rendition of “My Grandfather’s Clock.” Calexico — well, Joey Burns and John Convertino — contribute a lengthy sectional “Dance of Death.”

Currituck Co. makes a medley of two pieces to come up with “John Hurt Shiva Shankarah,” Peter Case’s guitar work shines on “When the Catfish is in Bloom.” M. Ward is in and out quickly with an electrifying take on “Bean Vine Blues #2” accompanied by the Portland band the Old Joe Clarks. Jason Lytle is similarly economic with “Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Phillip XIV of Spain,” on mostly acoustic guitar and synthesized fuzz bass. Both Lee Ranaldo and Cul De Sac employ musique concréte: the former using environmental sounds of birds and traffic on an overhead bridge on “The Singing Bridge of Memphis, Tennessee” and the latter, appropriately, on “The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, CA.”

There’s more, including a lap-steel-centered “Joe Kirby Blues” by Immergluck, Kaphan, Krummenacher & Hanes, and a pseudo-orchestral “Variation on ‘Commemorative Transfiguration & Communion at Magruder Park” by Sufjan. Not to be missed is Pelt’s stripped-down “Sunflower River Blues” with its raga-like introduction. They prove that droning bass, guitar and banjo are sufficient to the task of conveying Fahey’s message.

The liner notes are informative too, with an explanation of each track by the artists and an intro by Brower. Fahey fans will appreciate the labor of love by these musicians, and I hope these musicians’ fans will find this album an invitation to Fahey’s own works. It’s certainly a top-notch production.

(Vanguard, 2006)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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