Railroad I John Fahey


World excluding USA & Canada
Catalogue Id:
CDTAK 7102

There is a little story behind this reissue. Last year I threw Record Collector the idea of a Fahey epic, aware that I was taking on one of the most unusual stories and feared discographies in music. By January, it was five times longer than required! Then MOJO asked me to compile a How To Buy John Fahey guide. This pointed up the sad truth that 1983’s RAILROAD 1 had not only been unavailable since its early 90s Shanachie reissue but was commanding triple figures on the internet. My lamentations seemed to prod the mighty Ace Records into hastily organising this reissue while asking me to write the liner notes! I consider this to be something of a career peak.

John Fahey doing a train album was a long-awaited marriage made in heaven. Railroad 1, Fahey’s last grand statement for Takoma, is a timelessly evocative tribute to America’s mighty man-made artery. In his notes, Fahey recalls a train yard he saw in 1948, the herd of iron horses booming whistles and blowing steam leaving an indelible impression on the nine-year-old.

Where most train albums are songs passed down through generations, Fahey wrote his own or adapted blues standards then titled them according to the initial inspiration. The album is as much introspective reflection as railway tribute, referencing characters Fahey encountered and musicians he admired, while looking at his roots, childhood and life. Fahey’s uncharacteristically direct liner notes show great knowledge of the lines and awe at the majesty of the trains and scenery.

The album resembles a train journey, chugging or motoring through haunted valleys, dipping mountain trails or past the sun setting over endless cotton-fields. The opening Frisco Leaving Birmingham heralds a scorching departure, before Oneonta, inspired by a line the nine-year-old Fahey saw after a visit to Howes Cave.

On Summer Cat By My Door getting attacked by a cat at the age of 14 is twisted into something subtly complex and quite lovely. Steve Talbot On The Keddie Wye revamps long-time favourite Poor Boy Long Ways From Home at punk speed, retitled to namecheck a story-telling documentary-maker. Afternoon Espee Through Salem is skeletal and ghostly with knife-edge slide sweeps picked up from Bukka White sounding old as the hills. Enigmas & Perplexities Of The Norfolk & Western racily reworks Frank Hutchison’s Worried Blues as a flying-slide approximation of a locomotive on full throttle. Charlie Becker’s Meditation is melodic and tranquil, homaging a favourite Union Pacific conductor. The uptempo slide twister of Medley: Imitation Train Whistles/Po’ Boy is a racing stream with a life of its own, while the short and sweet Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad, Fahey’s take on much-covered country gospel standard ‘Life’s Railway To Heaven’, is this album’s hymn.

Devil Dog Through The Book Of Revelations is the supernatural conclusion, one of Fahey’s greatest realisations of the angels and demons flying through his fingers. Based on Tommy Johnson’s ‘Maggie Campbell’s Blues’, it provides a mesmerising finale. Life is a whole lot better for this amazing album rumbling out of the tunnel once more.

By Kris Needs

Track listing

Side 1

  • 01
    Frisco Leaving Birmingham

  • 02

  • 03
    Summer Cat By My Door

  • 04
    Steve Talbot On The Keddie Wye

  • 05
    Afternoon Espee Through Salem

  • 06
    Enigmas And Perplexities Of The Norfolk And Western

  • 07
    Charlie Becker's Meditation

  • 08
    Medley: Imitation Train Whistles/Po' Boy

  • 09
    Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad

  • 10
    Delta Dog Through The Book Of Revelation

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