Dating from an original 1963 limited issue of 300 copies, this second album by John Fahey is presented here in both its initial form and its 1967 re-recorded form, with the latter being at least partially prompted by his constantly improving playing. This mirrors his first album, “The Legend Of Blind Joe Death” which was re-visited on two occasions and is available via Ace as Takoma CDTAK 1002. “Death Chants” proved to be the album that began the first real spread of his music when his friend Norman Pierce began to wholesale copies to US folk hotspots from his Berkeley record store. Fahey had re-located to Berkeley where he was majoring in Philosophy at UC, and he was happy for Pierce to become the main outlet for his tiny Takoma label issues. As with his first album, this second outing had spoof notes from Fahey under a pseudonym that set him apart from the then folk mainstream for which he had a healthy distaste. He saw the music being moulded to middle class tastes by taking out the bite of the songs. Friend and producer ED Denson, also disdainful of the commercial sentimentalisation of the folk world, described him as 'a breath of air from a different clime".
Fahey played finger-picking style on steel-stringed guitars, and was one of the earliest players to seek to properly promote the instrument. Between the time of his early 1959 first album recording and this one he had taken to playing with finger picks, which in part led to his playing sounding much more self-assured. By 1967, ED Denson was trying to upgrade the Takoma range and was instrumental in Fahey re-recording the album along with the earlier one to take advantage of his improved abilities. All but two tracks are included here, with only ‘The Downfall Of The Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill’ (where John was joined by flautist Nancy McLean) and ‘Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Philip XIV’ not making it beyond their original form. The only track not written entirely by John was the beautifully lyrical ‘When The Springtime Comes Again’ (co-written by Pat Sullivan), which is extended in its second recording here. By contrast the tracks ‘America’ and ‘Stomping Tonight On The Pennsylvania/Alabama Border’ are shortened second time around.
The material included is very varied - from the intensely pretty, through subtle blues undertones, fine bottleneck work, hillbilly, ragtime and the sometimes eerie work on ‘John Henry Variations’. It was certainly a step beyond his first album in terms of breadth and the decision to re-record the work is justified in terms of the improved sonority, richness and maturity of playing and the comparison that it affords the listener. The re-recordings have been the ones that have been used for most subsequent re-issues of the work.