Given Fahey’s instrumental prowess in a solo setting you might question the need for anyone else, but Kevin Kelley’s shuffling drums add just the right touch to March! For Martin Luther King (Why didn't we all? asks Fahey in the liner notes, adding, Maybe some of us will now; maybe it's too late). The other added instrumentation is subtle and works quite well.  

The sound collage on The Singing Bridge of Memphis, Tennessee (subtitled Concerto for guitar, singing bridge, electric bassoon and old phonograph record) however brings a couple of new elements to Fahey’s work. The old phonograph record is Quill Blues by Big Boy Cleveland, a pan pipe solo recorded in 1927. Pan, Fahey notes, chases away the assassin, but the city remains unredeemed, which I’m inclined to read as a reference to the previous track (King was assassinated on the verandah of a Memphis motel) and as a collage the track works better than similar experiments on Requia

That additional instrumentation is back for Dances of the Inhabitants of the Invisible City of Bladensburg (Fahey: East of Hyattsville, even farther than the bridge that does not sing. But then you can't see anybody there because the people are all invisible) with the drums and some understated electric guitar kick in around half way through and Charles A. Lee: In Memoriam apparently remembers a noted icthyologist who accidentally saved the lives of thousands of people through his research (I went looking for details, but Google decided not to co-operate). His son, nicknamed Flea, a childhood friend of Fahey’s, may have played organ on The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party & Other Excursions

Irish Setter (Fahey: One died, but one still lives) runs to seven and a quarter minutes of typical chiming Fahey while Commemorative Transfiguration and Communion at Magruder Park (Fahey: It never happened, so don't worry) is asix minute medley of a quite recognizable Shortnin' Bread" and a seventeenth century German hymn called All Creatures of Our God and King, which I wouldn’t recognize if it came up and bit me in the leg, but I’ll take the on line sources’ word for it. If, on the other hand, it’s the bit that provides the last thirty seconds or so, I suspect it exists under another name in the Anglican canon.

What has gone down up to this point is more than enough to justify a purchase and repeated listens, but the 2006 reissue, released to to coincide with the release of Vanguard’s Fahey tribute album (I Am the Resurrection) and remastered from the original master tapes, has bonus tracks that add another twenty-three minutes to the original forty-three. 

Now, in most cases, when bonus tracks are tacked on there’s a significant differential from the album proper, usually because the extras are things that were either deemed not quite good enough or didn’t quite fit the flow of the rest of the album. Here, a self-explanatory nine minute selection of bits and pieces labelled The John Fahey Sampler, Themes and Variations, a pleasant track named  Fare Forward Voyagers (also the title of a 1973 album I haven’t heard) and Steel Guitar Medley

On that basis, since the original package is definitely among the best in an extensive catalogue, the additions make this an ideal place to start an investigation of one of the true  pioneers of late twentieth century American music.

Liner noter here; Notes on the songs here.

© Ian Hughes 2012