1968 was a very busy year for John Fahey, aka Blind Thomas, aka Blind Joe Death. He had already recorded and released two albums, his 8th and 9th volumes of solo guitar compositions. In the spring came The Yellow Princess with its new found confidence, delicate reworkings of complicated classical themes, and the noise collage: "The Singing Bridge Of Tennessee", which was followed closely by "The Voice Of The Turtle", a spellbinding collection that reportedly cost 15 cents more to manufacture the robust gatefold sleeve and book than they were charging.
Fahey then had an idea. "I was in the back of a record store in July and I saw all these cartons of Bing Crosby's White Christmas albums. The clerk said it always sells out. So I got the idea to do a Christmas album that would sell every year."
It turned out to be the only commercially successful idea Fahey ever had. He called the album The New Possibility and filled it with syncopated carols. It almost went gold. He explains on the original sleeve: "The songs are syncopated, not because I feel that syncopation or 'swinging the carols' is more in keeping with the times, but simply because I prefer to play them the way I do." In reality John Fahey brought his genius for taking core melody and literally 'picking' at it in such a way that the tune, no matter how familiar, became a Fahey original. No mean feat on solo unaccompanied guitar, but Fahey's unique style of creating a waterfall of sliding notes against a loping, meandering flat-picked backdrop seems to be infinitely adaptable.
Fahey often seems to draw his inspiration from soulful, bluesy spiritual origins. Many of his albums would end with a hymn, as usual you can feel Fahey coaxing the melody out of the well-worn familiar number, showing the little gem inside the husk. Those that follow his long and meandering path through the years, get to recognise how he will re-work phrases and patch in half forgotten ancient blues originals and ghosts of traditional folk refrains. The Christmas albums are no exception: it's a delight to hear rather well-worn carols being reworked, highlighting the intricate melodies, often endowing them with a distinct un-Christmassy feel, but then that's Fahey.
Since 1968 John Fahey has recorded three more Christmas albums, and one of Easter hymns, but Christmas with John Fahey, Volume Two is easily the best of the rest, including, as it does, some gleaming and exciting duets with Rick Ruskin. Listen to Russian Christmas Overture, included along with virtually all of the second album on this new package. The two albums have been married onto one CD for this release, omitting just one piece due to time constraints.
By Phil Smee