The Yellow Princess (4.5*)

IThe Yellow Princess.jpg

Having bought most of John Fahey’s extensive discography on vinyl and/or CD I hadn’t been in too much of a hurry to finish filling in the gaps, largely because that would entail a certain amount of research into reissues and things like that and for most of the nineties and noughties I had other fish to fry. 

A glance at the early part of the discography here will probably explain why.

On the other hand, now that I’ve caught up with The Yellow Princess I’m faced with the realization I’ve been consigning one of Fahey’s best albums to the I’ll get around to chasing this up sometime folder.

Released just under a decade into his recording career in 1968 The Yellow Princess was Fahey’s ninth album, his second for Vanguard and an apparent attempt to reach a wider market (as mentioned in my comments on Requia). Part of the rationale behind the Vanguard deal, apart from a better distribution system than you could manage with an independent release was apparently a larger recording budget, so The Yellow Princess includes a relatively rare collaboration with other musicians (Jay Ferguson along with brothers Mark and Matt Andes from the much underrated and largely forgotten Spirit and drummer Kevin Kelley).

Unfortunately, when Princess failed to sell, Vanguard refused to fund extra musicians for Of Rivers and Religion, and gave Fahey the release that allowed him to move across to Warner Brothers, where Rivers and After the Ball mightn’t have broken any sales records but did provide my introduction to the man and his music. 

Fahey’s the sort of musician who’s distinctive with a relatively consistent body of work, so the first Fahey you hear will possibly remain as your favourite, which is probably why I rate Rivers so highly, but if you’re looking for a starting point The Yellow Princess is a pretty good way to dip your toe in the water.

Recorded in 1968 at Sierra Sound Laboratories in Berkeley, it’s one of the best sounding of Fahey’s many releases, clear as a bell with precise picking in a variety of settings and a degree of experimentation that works better than it does on Requia, the other Vanguard release.

Starting with the title track, a five minute stabilized improvisation on a passage from Saint-Saens’ The Yellow Princess Overture, a neat balance between complex classical and more primitive Americana expressed through superb guitar technique, apparently inspired by a magnificent Clipper ship with golden sails, ivory prow, jade hull and jeweled mast-head

The Americana side of things continues with View (East from the Top of the Riggs Road/B&O Trestle) before Fahey mixes it up on a requiem for my orange tom-cat. Died early 1966 on Lion, a more complicated number with ringing flourishes in a finger-picked jam that quotes Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.


© Ian Hughes 2012