It is possible to give a simple and straight-forward explanation of this “Best Of” album, and that would be to say that tracks 1-9 come from John Fahey's 1968 Vanguard album “The Yellow Princess” and the remaining tracks 10-15 come from “Requia” , his album from the preceding year. His invitation to record for Vanguard Records had followed his gradual growth from his earliest recordings in 1958, which he had pressed in small quantities to sell himself. He had set up Takoma Records, amid taking a philosophy degree, on which label he issued several albums with titles like “Death Chants, Breakdowns & Military Waltzes” and “Great San Bernardino Birthday Party And Other Excursions”. It was on this latter album that you can find a track entitled ‘Guitar Excursions Into The Unknown’ which pretty much describes much of his output. Mainstream he was not.
John Fahey's official website adds the phrase 'American Primitive Guitar' right under his name on the home page and, while it is true that his music contains many early elements of folk and delta blues, such a description tells only part of the story. His guitar work, with the sometime addition of a variety of other recorded sounds from the environment, is multi-various. Varied tunings, time signatures and feels take the listener on an ever-twisting and turning journey as Fahey investigates the outer limits of his steel string acoustic playing, so perhaps we need to make the distinction between the guitar players and non-playing listeners. For the former, his website offers sections on tunings and a discussion forum with 860 members at time of writing, indicating the degree of study and immersion that his playing offered. For the latter, it is more a question of letting the music wash over you, picking up on slyly inserted melodies, moods and reference points drawn from musicians as varied as Blind Willie Johnson, Charles Ives and John Phillips.
The fifteen tracks on this superlative guitar instrumental collection is the perfect way into an investigation of John Fahey's music, as they offer everything from the echoes of the early delta bluesmen, his interpretation of Christmas songs, and the found sounds that help to make up the intriguing ‘Singing Bridge of Memphis, Tennessee’. There are even a couple of tracks that feature him playing with an electric band with members of Spirit and the Byrds. It was a mixed formula which to some extent alienated some of his earlier fans at the time, but one that now offers new listeners a rich and wide array of ways into appreciation. What it will do without doubt is to intrigue those new to him, and leave them wanting more. With twenty or so albums here on the Ace Records website that include both earlier and later work, you will undoubtedly be spoilt for choice.