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Kjell Karlsson "chief.karlsson@yahoo.se" (sweden)

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The Circle Game
The Circle Game
Price: £9.45

5.0 out of 5 stars Where does time go?, 29 Jun. 2017
This review is from: The Circle Game (Audio CD)
Almost fifty years long gone .... sometimes pondering over how I got to here and now ... Tom Rush's The Circle Game gives me some of the answers ...

Death Chants Breakdowns and Military Waltzes
Death Chants Breakdowns and Military Waltzes
Price: £12.62

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just an opinion..., 23 Aug. 2014
Death Chants Breakdowns and Military Waltzes always had a very special significance for me. Back in the late 60s in Sweden we had just gotten familiar with Embryonic Journey and Rockport Sunday* and there was this whispering rumor about a certain John Fahey who had filled several LPs with that kind of stuff...But those records were not available in Sweden at that time so nobody there had scarcely ever heard them Then suddenly on one of those late night radio shows playing esoteric things that were definitely not on the pop-lists of the day....the DJ announcing:-"and now some pieces by the American guitarist John Fahey.." A few seconds later the foundations of my whole world had been forever changed upon getting hit by the opening chords of the 1967 Sunflower River Blues....
That was some good more than forty years ago...and I am still recovering...

This specific cd being Fahey's record number 2...or with a somewhat differently angled perspective...a combination of number 2 and number 7...or perhaps number 8?...confused???...we will come back to that...

Death Chants was issued in early 1964 in a limited 300 copies edition in plain white cardboard cover with black letter text, just the same as Blind Joe Death some years earlier. 1965 saw a new edition with a just somewhat modified cover, but still as the original white with black text. The music was recorded in Berkeley California autumn 1963 with the exception of Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Philip XIV of Spain which was recorded in St Michaels Church Maryland februari 1962 and also The Downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill which was recorded together with flautist Nancy McLean at same location march 1962. Takoma annotations states that all the other Berkeley recordings not selected for inclusion on the album, were later unintentionally destroyed . Thus leaving us in a situation where we don't face the risqué of any future "bonus tracks" and thereby also setting us on a somewhat safe ground concerning further discographical adventures! In 1967 was decided a rerecording for a new issue of Death Chants. All tracks from the 1963 album except aforementioned Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill and Dance of Inhabitants were rerecorded at Sierra Sound Studios Berkeley in 1967 and the album was issued, including the two titles not rerecorded , in mono edition with the Tom Weller "psychedelic poster"-cover, which was soon to be replaced by the more well known Tom Weller "medieval woodcut"-cover. This issue later saw further Takoma editions in 1970, 1972, in both mono and "fake stereo", and in 1973. Finally, from Chrysalis is reported one issue in the end of the 70s with the title Some Summer Day cut out. And anectdotically... Fahey was proposed by Shanachie Records to do a rererecording of Death Chants in the early 1980s but that project never realized, although it eventually led to Charlie Schmidt recording some titles from the Death Chants repertoire, which eventually found its way to Fahey's private tape collection and thereafter, posthumously discovered, leading to some hilarious results... The 1963 Death Chants, minus Dance of the Inhabitants, was included in the infamous Takoma 1000 double LP The Early Sessions, together with 1959 Blind Joe Death...soon withdrawn from the Takoma Catalogue. And finally in 1969 Sonet issued a European edition with specific designed cover and sparse liner notes by Pete Drummond. Somewhere in this history the titles index on the covers, as well as two tracks; Spanish Dance and Take a Look at That Baby, got completely mixed up and eventually Spanish Dance disappeared from the titles index on some later editons. That story goes as follows: Spanish Dance and Take a Look at That Baby were swapped between respective album sides in the 1965 release. And the 1968 cover reverses the sides for the titles index and some even entirely omits Take a Look at That Baby. Some of these errors were inherited on the European issue and it meant that for a long time in Europe we lived in the belief that Spanish Dance was Take a Look...and vice versa, and that side A was side B...and vice versa!...confused??...Just calm down....there are examples a thousand times worse in the Fahey discography...!
With the background of chronological and discographical details thus at least somewhat established we can now return to my initial statement of record no 7?...or 8? To reveal this mystery down to its absolute roots should demand a discussion on every Fahey issue between 1965 and 1968, and there are indeed quite a few, so I will, at least for now, leave it as it stands, except for the following remarks: Death Chants is of course not one 1963 record that merely happened to be rerecorded and reissued in 1967! Death Chants is in fact, at least to my humble opinion, two separate and different records, just that they happen to share titles and musical content! In this discussion on identity and definition of what is a specific record I usually think of the 1955 Glenn Gould recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations and his 1981 recording of the same material.In the world of "classical music" no one would ever dare to suggest that the 1981 Goldberg Variations was just a rerecording and reissue of the 1955 Goldberg. They are clearly defined as two separate records in the artist's oevre! So...as a logical conclusion I can see no reason whatsoever to define the 1967 Death Chants as a mere rerecording and reissue...or for that sake the 1963 Death Chants as just the blue-prints to the 1967 Death Chants. We are simply dealing with two different records...notwithstanding the fact that they share titles and musical content! That same argument is of course also applicable on Blind Joe Death.
And from that point of departure perhaps I am ready to make some comments on the music presented here!
It seems that Fahey in the meantime from the 1959 Blind Joe Death had expanded his repertoire and influences from predominantly "blues-based" (whatever changes of definitions that specific type of music has undergone the last 50 or so years, when it comes to its assumed origins, "ethnical and social" context etc.) to a more wide broadened "traditional folkmusic-based" repertoire (whatever now may be the definitions of "trad-folk-music"??), combined with the classical symphony and chamber music. This might have to do, at least partially, with Fahey also having been exposed to Harry Smith's celebrated project Anthology of American Folk Music...although I will be careful not to accentuate this too hard, as it is also known that Fahey had come into contact with the actual repertoire of "the Anthology" through his own activities as record collector in collaboration with other 78-rpm collectors such as Bussard, Spottswood and Denson. And most presumably this way he had also been familiarized with the repertoire that was to become the basis for the legendary County LP Old Time Mountain Guitar. With the latter presenting music by such artists as Harvey&Copeland, Dilleshaw, McGhee, Hutchison, Bayless Rose etc... which have most certainly had a big influence on Fahey's music at the time. And while still on this subject I would not spend too much time and energy trying to solve the riddle of the alleged 1926-29 Bluebird 78s by Kelly&Gatz, which by some utterly unreliable and obscure sources of information have been supposed to have had an enormous influence on Fahey. Such a project might end in a big surprise and a resulting laughter! Of course we are also well aware that Fahey already had a broad knowledge of the repertoire of blues and ragtime guitarists such as Bukka White, Charley Patton, John Hurt, Skip James, Blind Blake, William Moore and Sylvester Weaver, just to mention a few.
As a little side track can be discussed on the influence Hawaiian music might have had. It is obvious that Hawaiian Steel Guitar as performed on records by for example Sol Hoopi and Roy Smeck had an enormous success in the twenties and thirties and thereby influenced many blues and old timey guitarists and in that , at least indirectly and secondhandedly, had an influence upon Fahey. The same applies most certainly also concerning the so called Parlor Guitar tradition. When it comes to what nowadays is called Hawaiian Slack Key, despite its similarities in open tunings and fingerpicking techniques etc, it is not very certain that it had any initial influence on Fahey, as it did not become wider recorded until late 1950's, and even then very sparsely. However, just to complicate things on this specific matter, Fahey in the beginning 1960's spent a brief period in Hawaii and later admitted in an interview in the end 60s that he had come in contact with this music firsthandedly on that occasion...
It seems quite obvious, and this perhaps sounding somewhat pretentious but still should not be underestimated, that Fahey at this time had further refined his compositional interests and skills, taking some at least "general aesthetic influence" from the classical concert repertoire that he always held very high. This especially concerning the Russian and also the late Romanticist symphonic composers...and of course modernists such as Bartok and Cage,Partch and Stockhausen.
Notably Fahey had matured remarkably as a guitarist between -59 and -63 and finally in -67 he was certainly to be considered as a master craftsman of his instrument, albeit within the limits put up by the lack of formal classical conservatory education and techniques. In other words Fahey to be considered as more or less an autodidact. Also noted that some of the -63 recordings are said to have been performed on a Martin New Yorker Parlor guitar from late 1890s** and the -67 recordings with a more conventional instrument... most probably the infamous Bacon&Day,thus explaining some differencies in soundscapes...the crisp delicacy of some of the -63s as compared to the majestic sonority of the -67s.

Sunflower River Blues is just one out of many Fahey "River Blues"-pieces. Sometimes almost getting the feeling that he was mocking with a cliché about the topic of blues connected with rivers. This not least by naming some of his earlier compositions with names such as Das Sein River Blues, Wissenschaetlich River Blues or Ick Weiss Nikt River Blues, probably as a humorous result of his academic studies of German Philosophy...This piece is claimed to be inspired by Charley Patton but there is in fact no direct resemblance of the Delta in here except perhaps the descending bass line in the main theme, which eventually could be traced to Willie Brown. Otherwise it seems loosely reminiscent of the Piedmont style and I always felt a vague connection here to William Moore's Old Country Rock. The -63 version is played in a medium to lively tempo sounding as if trying to recreate one of those old forgotten 78 rpm records from the -20s, whereas the -67 version has tempo somewhat taken down to create a more calm and majestic meandering impression. This later version also has an introduction of strange beauty...a slow chord progression with an almost Eastern ragaesque flavor.

When The Springtime Comes Again obviously has this title from The Carter Family tune of that name but otherwise no musical connection to the same. Composed in collaboration with female guitar partner Patricia Sullivan (amusing to compare with the constellation Stefan Grossman/Aurora Block some years later). Some confusion exists regarding composers name on early editions record labels. The introduction presents the main theme, a lyrical cantilena, performed in syncopated slow waltz ¾-time which comes back in the exposition as a 4/4-time elaboration, in fact somewhat reminiscent of the main structure of Sunflower River Blues. The music then evolves with the introduction of contrasting secondary themes and thus increasing dramatic tension and with main theme finally retaken in the ending coda. Variations on these themes some years later reemerging as basic components in compositions such as The Fahey Sampler (both versions) and fully evolved as Mark 1:15 and When The Fire And The Rose Are One. Clearly audible on the 63-version is a tape splice between the introduction and exposition which might indicate that the composition was not yet fully stabilized in form at the time of the recording 63.....But in 67 the composition seems stabilized and coherent as a very convincing performance of spellbinding depht and poetry, although it is evident that at this time Fahey had already decided to abandon the composition in this form, to transform it into a longer tone poem, as mentioned above.

Stomping Tonight on the Pennsylvania Alabama Border. Perhaps no Fahey composition have been more discussed in terms of compositional techniques and it has even been the subject of an extensive academic musicological study by Nick Schillace. Despite various statements concerning Vaughan Williams and the Catholic Requiem as influences for this composition, no obvious traces thereof are aurally detectable. Instead it shows some loose influences from Skip James and rural blues in general in the intro. But from there leading into a variety of "non-blues" dramatic and lyrical variations on motives interweaving each other as a filigree work in varied tempos and modes. Finally ending in a lyrical elegical finale of melancholy uncertainty. Thus being a very complex, coherent and balanced composition from a musical point of view! It has also been recorded as early as 1962 for Fonotone under the title Stomping Tonight on the old Pennsylvania Alabama Border, thus showing the composition being finished and stabilized already at this early stage. The intriguing title seems to refer to Pennsylvania and Alabama Avenues in Washington DC and not the States by those names...although the latter would be very typical of Fahey's somewhat odd sense of humor...and where in the whole world the borders of Pennsylvania and Alabama meet still awaits detection... The 63 version performed "naked and bare" as if played directly from the score, notwithstanding that there probably never was a score, whereas the 67 version, although somewhat shorter, adds considerably more dark emotion and depth to the composition.

Some Summer Day has its title from Charley Patton but no other direct musical connections to be detected. It had been recorded by Fahey at least three times before entering the Death Chants canon, and notably one of these being a duet with Mike Stewart a.k.a. Backwards Sam Firk where Fahey attempted some singing. Luckily for the rest of the world he soon abandoned the vocal s and concentrated on the instrumental part. This being a charming little composition with a slight taste of Gershwin consisting of just a handful of general blues clichés turned inside out, upside down and hither and dither and combined in a way that was barely ever heard before. ...a stroke of genius! The 63 and 67 versions are identical, aside from the sonority and improved mastery of the instrument, and thus bear evidence that the composition was fixed in form and structure already in 1963.

On The Beach At Waikikki with its title taken from a vintage 1915 Louise&Ferera recording, but otherwise no direct musical correspondence. Eventually a Fahey rendition of this could very well have fitted, as it is a very charming uptempo Hawaiian guitar and steel guitar duet. The Fahey composition discussed here, a lively uptempo and syncopated dance tune with some passages of great beauty, seems to be in the same group stylistically, melodically and musically as the following Spanish Dance and Take A Look At That Baby, and perhaps one could say that these three comprise the specific "Breakdowns" on this album...The 63 version has a whimsical bottleneck introduction, which also comes back as a coda to close the composition, that was omitted in the 67 version.

Spanish Dance. Not Spanish at all...but a lively limping and stumbling dance melody with a rough and down to earth Appalachian feeling about it...something which could have been played by Sam McGhee or Bayless Rose salong time ago...a charming unpretentious ditty and really no notable differencies between 63 and 67.

John Henry Variations is from a compositional point of view perhaps best described as a Rhapsody. And as such not so utterly complex in structure as for example the more symphonic treatment of Stomping Tonight... The main theme being a variant of John Henry/Spike Driver Blues, laid out and exposed and elaborated with insertions of secondary contrasting themes of which Lonesome Weary Blues from Harvey&Copeland and The Siege of Sevastopol from the parlor guitar tradition are easily detectable, but also sections that seem to be motifs of more obscure or even of pure Fahey origin. The 63 version seems to suffer a little from an instrument that goes slightly out of tune and some abrupt halts between sections, which eventually could be tape splices. And the 67 version is more organic flowing and displays more dark emotional depth than its predecessor.

The Downfall Of The Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill is a fantastic title for an extraordinary piece of music. It is quite unique in Fahey's whole recorded output, being a guitar-flute duet between Fahey and Nancy McLean...a kind of modernistic chamber-music piece where none of the participants are taking a leading role, but equally share the musical event. McLeans' flute, with perfect breathing control and punctuation, is playing a meandering ever-changing strange melody against Fahey's 12-string guitar (?!), playing some most unusual harmonic chord progressions with a very aggressive staccato strumming of chords and sometimes treating the guitar in the upper register almost like a mandolin. Very far from being bluesy or folkey this piece is an excellent example of absolute music outside cathegorization that bears its age with dignity and it took me half a lifetime to learn to fully appreciate its depth and mystic beauty. Not rerecorded in -67. A considerable amount of duets with McLean were actually recorded and some of them also appeared on further albums in the end 60s, but none of the same musical dignity as this one

Take A Look At That Baby is a ragtime uptempo number in a conventional structure with traditional chord progressions and picking. A delightful little bagatelle taking off somewhere in the vicinities just between Blind Blake and Nashville. It is said to be based on a melody with the same title by The Two Poor Boys; Joe Evans and Arthur McClain from Tennessee, who recorded a dozen or so 78s in the end of the 20s. They performed the "pop and folk-blues-songs" of the day, as well as some string-band instrumentals in a Vaudeville Novelty style. There is really no notable difference between the 63 and 67 recordings other than the guitar sonority and Fahey's improved guitar technique. And this in turn might indicate that many of these short compositions on this album, of which some of them were in fact Fahey's renditions of tunes from rare old 78s, might have been fully fixed and established at a very early stage and thus did not change very much over time.

Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Philip XIV Of Spain is yet another unbelievable title for a tremendous piece of music. And of course there never was a King Philip XIV in Spain...the last one with that name was number V of the Bourbon Dynasty who reigned for fortysix years(!) in the eighteenth century, driven away by a rebellion once, but then back after one year interregnum. Original title of this piece was Smoky Ordinary Blues and it also appeared as Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Invisible City Of Bladensburg, which title was to reemerge on the version, with rock band accompaniment, recorded on Yellow Princess half a decade later! The title is said to have been inspired by the Rimskij-Korsakoff opera Legend Of The Invisible City Of Kitezh but the title also bears some resemblance to Stravinskijs' Infernal Dance Of All The Subjects Of Kaschei from the ballet suite Firebird, which reportedly Fahey was very fond of. Played with utter elegancy in laptop steel technique and based on a simple motif in syncopated 4/4-time consisting of mainly some descending basic chords, with continuously repeated variations and elaborations . And nevertheless the uncomplicated basic musical material Fahey succeeds in creating a masterpiece of evocative eerie and haunting music that stands out of every attempt to describe...it just simply has to be heard to be believed! The only comparable compositions ever by Fahey in this vein might perhaps be Revelations on the Banks of the Pawtuxent and Death Of The Clayton Peacock . Not rerecorded in -67
But in fact rerecorded in 1977 for the Best Of Anthology

America is the one and only major composition by Fahey solely intended for 12-string guitar. He has been performing and recording on 12-string guitar on other occasions but America is usually regarded as his only exclusively 12-string composition. It consists mainly of three parts of which the introductory main theme is a majestic dramatic motif in slightly syncopated ¾-time which is succeeded by a contrasting lighter secondary theme in speedier tempi and finally a coda, which is a collection of motifs and sequences seemingly drawing its influences from lively dance tunes somewhat in the vein of Mississippi John Hurt. Although without any doubt being principally the one and same composition the two versions presented here anyhow show some noteworthy differences. The 63 version seems not to be completely finished and stabilized as can be heard on some occasional tape splices which might indicate that at this stage it was still in the works as a compilatory project of "snippets from here and there ". Furthermore the 63 version has a considerably longer coda, which is radically shortened down in the 67 version. But both versions share an insertion of the main theme recorded at normal tape speed but replayed at high-speed, like playing a 33 rpm disc at 45 rpm. One major difference is also that the 67 version has a distinct separate introduction of flageoletto playing, where on the other hand the 63 version starts off directly on the main theme. Both versions follow a general pattern of exposition and variation of the main theme before leading to the secondary theme and thereafter insertion of the aforementioned high-speed section leading to repetition of the main theme in normal speed and finally to the coda, which as mentioned above is radically shortened in the 67 version. America was again re-re-recorded in 1971 for inclusion on the album America but not issued until the late 90s.

Episcopal Hymn is in fact Kings Weston as composed by Vaughn Williams and here performed in the quasi-classical style that Fahey used for hymns, psalms and Christmas music. And as always with such music he performs with simplicity, sincerity and respectfulness. The two versions here are practically identical and the only notable difference is that Fahey, of course, in the 67 version has further matured as a guitarist.

Finally as a general conclusion, looking back at this Opus-list that comprises the canon of Death Chants, Breakdowns & Military Waltzes, it is obvious that referring to John Fahey as folkmusic or even blues, is so utterly ignorant and ridiculous. When he in fact should be regarded a highly original composer and master performer of serious art music for acoustic steel string guitar!

This cd on review here is of course a prestigious and historically valuable project and it is packaged and presented in a most satisfying way, but for one detail... The accompanying booklet carries illustrations of most of the LP covers that were discussed earlier, with the exception of the European issue, and it contains informative liner notes by Byron Coley. It also presents the liner notes for the original 1963 issue by Fahey himself under the pseudonym of Chester Petranick...an exquisite example if any of how bizarre and surrealistic Fahey could appear in his writings. But the cover illustration is dreadful! ....and something better could in fact, at least in my opinion, have been chosen! But that is also my only point of criticism!

It seems a bit of a delicate problem to discuss records such as Death Chants almost half a century later, considering their age and the circumstances under which they originally were conceived. The easiest way, and most probably the only possible, is of course, as I have tried above, to use the principle of retrospective comparative viewing, but this is perhaps a little bit unfair at least to the 1963 Death Chants! That record saw Fahey still an apprentice on his way to master craftsmanship, leading the listener into a world of strange beauty with soundscapes rarely heard before. It also showed that the acoustic steel string guitar was an instrument in its own right, fully capable of creating serious complex music other than just banging away three chords as accompaniment to the "folksongs" of the day...many of them so utterly ridicously vapid and naïve... It also established Fahey as the leading exponent of this whole concept of music...a role that he kept, with or against his own will, for the rest of his life...and arguably even more so posthumously! It also points out, and very clearly so, that already at that time Fahey had a stabilized idea about the structure and contents of the "Death Chants canon" and how to present and perform each and every individual composition within that frame. This later perhaps with some reservations for When The Springtime Comes Again, as already discussed.

The 1963 Death Chants as a presumably completely new listeners experience at the time perhaps also can be the reason for a minor contemplation on the process of artistic creativity!
It is of course quite obvious that when Fahey started his journey, all the ingredients were already there...the acoustic steel string guitar, the unorthodox open tunings, the bottleneck- and slide-techniques, that whole repertoire of rural guitar blues, traditional old-timey instrumental music from the Appalachians and Piedmont Area, fingering-techniques from banjo-, guitar- and dulcimer-playing, the whole established "High-Art Academic Classical Music", and so on... And even though it has been widely proposed that Fahey created this musical concept almost single-handedly, this might be more or less a mythologization, as it is evident that there were at least from the beginning of the 60s contemporaries who were attempting at similar things at that time. I think of names such as Dick Rosmini, Sandy Bull, Harry Taussig, Robbie Basho and Suni McGrath...just to mention a few... But never before had these musical components been mixed and moulded into the expressive and emotionally profound shape as visioned and designed by Fahey...and perhaps neither thereafter!
The 1963 Death Chants was something completely both new and old and fantastic and years ahead of its time when it first came...but fully understood by but a few...and the 1967 Death Chants will, at least to me, always stand as the eternal Fahey Masterpiece...to my opinion rivaled only, if at all, by the Yellow Princess and Fare Forward Voyagers!

But to conclude, allow me to quote the following: -" It is time that criticism of Fahey's work was taken from the hands of the sheltered academics, with their ideal theories about his hodology, the epistemological value of his work, and indeed the nature of his inspiration. What matters is the music itself, and not the abstract structures that may be constructed upon it." JACK BANISTER (a.k.a. John Fahey)

*Of course Graham, Grossman and Jansch & Renbourn were known and much admired in Europe at the time, but they never made the same direct impact on me...but nowadays I am very fond of especially Renbourn.

**Although still to be proven, this is allegedly the same guitar that was achieved by Blind Joe Death after his kithara was swept away in the mythical 1927 Sligo River flood. And also still to be proven is the rumour that the aforementioned kithara later was found by Harry Partch!

And as always: Put Your Past Ahead Of You!

The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites
The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £12.88

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars But I always found the original LP far better...., 14 Mar. 2014
This year 2014 we celebrate the 50 years anniversary of “Dance of Death”!
Amazing how time goes by….
I always was a bit ambivalent about ”The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favourites” ever since upon first hearing it some 42 years ago on a Takoma vinyl album that I found on my first visit to the USA (and which by the way still holds a place I my collection).
Absolutely no doubt about that it fits organically, thematically, musically and chronologically in what I usually call “The Death Quartet”…namely together with its two predecessors “Blind Joe Death”, “Death Chants, Breakdowns & Military Waltzes” and its successor “The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death”.
And thereby also taken into consideration that its two predecessors were re- and re-re-recorded some three years after the issue of the one that is on review here.
And furthermore also taken into consideration that when judging I have to keep my impression of the original Takoma vinyl album apart from the cd-reissue as there are some differencies that will be mentioned later on in this little essay.

“Dance of Death” was issued in 1964 as volume III of Fahey's recorded output for his Takoma label. The original issue had the plain white cardboard sleeve with black letters just as its two predecessors and in 1967 for a brief period it was presented with the Tom Weller “Psychedelic sleeve”, also that just as the two aforementioned.
Finally late in 1967 it was presented with the Tom Weller “Medeival Woodcut sleeve” that we are now familiar with. This occurred as the two earlier albums had been rerecorded and finally presented in similar sleeves.
“Dance of Death”, as opposed to its two predecessors, or rather the rerecordings of the same two, and even as supposed to its successor, never had a separate European issue and was thus not generally available in Europe until in the -70s.

In 1964 Fahey was already located in Berkeley California but during that summer he had for a brief period returned to the East Coast for various reasons. Amongst them most notably in connection with the rediscovery of Skip James together with Henry Vestine and William Barth but also for performing in the Boston Massachusetts club circuit

Also in this period, around august 22-24, were recorded some thirty compositions and/or fragments, out of which eleven were included in the original “Dance of Death”, in Gene Rosenthal's studio in Silver Springs, Maryland, where Rosenthal ran his Adelphi Records.
Of these not chosen for the original album four more are included as bonus-tracks in the cd reissue discussed here.
And also some of the other recordings have since the end of the -90s been circulated and thereby giving us the possibility to encompass this recording session to a greater extent than before.

At this time Fahey had further developed his skills as a guitarist as well as his approach to composition and musical consciousness on the material that formed the basis of his musicianship compared to his two earlier Takoma records. And that is of course compared to the original versions of these two albums …not the final 1967 versions.

That is somewhat briefly the background to the music presented here.

The opening track is “Wine and Roses”, later renamed “The Red Pony”, an original Fahey composition based on the open tuning D minor which Fahey got firsthandedly from Skip James.
Otherwise no direct traces of Skip James music in this composition which became a standard in the Fahey concert repertoire and also later rerecorded.
Loosely described as consisting of an introductory bridge of two motifs then followed by the main musical content which approximately is themes presented in a scheme 2x(AA-BB-A1A1) with a short contrasting interlude reminding on motifs from the introduction in the middle and finally finished by an attached coda.
The open D minor tuning gives this composition a very special atmosphere that to the ear seems neither major nor minor.
The composition has high musical-melodic quality and though this original version, at least to me, is the best version put on record, it still is not completely fulfilling to my opinion. This because I find the tempo too fast and the approach too aggressive. The musical content would to my ears come out far better by being played more “delicately” at slower speed and with not so much emphasis on the double thumb bass.

“How Long” is a highly innovative Faheyesque interpretation of the blues standard of Leroy Carr, Tampa Red & others…Performed here like it has never been performed before with Fahey playing behind the melody, above the melody, inside the melody, outside the melody and every whichaway one could ever think of…And still it is “How Long”…but different…and a stroke of genius!

“On the Banks of the Owchita” is performed in duet with William Barth and mainly the first guitar is played laptop steel and the second guitar fingerpicked/chording. This piece is Fahey/Barth's rendition of the Hindustani unsurpassed master of the sitar Ravi Shankar's film-music for “Pater Panchali”. The music consisting of one single theme which is repeated again and again in various tempi and instrumentations.
It has been suggested that Fahey/Barth first played the theme as originally and then “could not resist ragging it up in a higher tempo”!
Upon listening to Shankar's original recording this statement proves to be false.
In fact Shankar's original recording is performed with an ensemble of mainly sitar, flute and tablas, where at first the theme is established in low tempi by the sitar and then repeated in same tempi by the flute and from there going to higher tempi variations of the theme by sitar and tablas and finally back to the lower tempi by the flute. This arrangement is thereafter identically repeated one more time and the whole performance lasts approximately 7 minutes.
Thereby it is completely clear that the “ragged up” high tempi section is already present in the original Shankar arrangement!
As Fahey/Barth's performance is about roughly 3½ minutes what they do is to play the arrangement exactly up to half the original Shankar performance…omitting the repetitional section.
And furthermore it seems like the laptop steel guitar is taking the parts of the sitar and the finger guitar playing is taking the part of the flute and even in the high tempi section by chord strumming also taking some of the rhythmic drive as played by the tablas in the original Shankar recording.
A very clever and tasteful arrangement transposed to guitar.
The slow section has a haunting and “mysterious” Eastern flavour about it…and the high tempi section sure swings!

“Worried Blues” is Fahey's rendition of a Frank Hutchison of West Virginia tune. A lively spirited bottleneck piece including a bridge in the middle section of what seems to be Fahey origin.
I'm not entirely sure that it is possible to fully attribute this tune to Hutchison or the Piedmont area alone as it seems to be able to trace it also to the Mississippi Delta under the name of “Pearline” as performed by Son House among others.
This tune stayed in Fahey's concert repertoire for almost all of his career.

”What the Sun Said” is worthy of a little discussion about its actual origins and how it came into being. This because there is some information in existence from certain sources about this piece that I can not really agree with.
It is generally accepted, also by me, that this piece is a four part suite that was combined and edited by Ed Denson from a number of different tapes and takings from the actual Adelphi recording session.

So far so good…

But it is by some Fahey scholars also assumed that these pieces originate from a lengthy improvisation and variation on the Fahey composition “On the Sunny Side of the Ocean”
And on this statement I can not agree.
And my opinion is based on two arguments;
Musically the actual composition “On the Sunny Side of The Ocean” shows no resemblance at all with “What the Sun Said” neither in themes, motifs or general arrangement. And that composition is very well known in the Fahey canon as it was recorded for the album “Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death” in 1965 and furthermore in the beginning of the –70s for inclusion in the “Fahey/Kottke/Lang album”. And besides of that it was also a long time standard in Fahey's concert repertoire and has also been recorded live. And on neither of these recordings can I find any musical resemblances, thematically or motifs, to “What the Sun Said”.

Discographically the actual composition “On the Sunny Side of The Ocean” does not exist as an explicit title in any of Fahey's many earlier recording sessions and does not actually show up under that title until in a recording session in july 1965 in Cambridge Massachusetts which in fact was the basis for the aforementioned “Transfiguration-album”.
And finally given the fact that we during the last decade have been made familiar with the Adelphi recording session in almost its entirety I thereby stay by my argument that “What the Sun Said” is not edited on some lengthy recorded improvistion/variation from “On the Sunny side of the Ocean”, but rather from various bits of tapes of “Bric-á-Braque” from that session.

Aside from that the music stands on its own feet and is a further example of how Fahey was in the process of developing the long epic pieces that would later lead to such masterpieces as “The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party” and “Mark I:15”.

The introduction to the first movement of the suite is obviously influenced by Skip James and from there moves over to a contrasting cantilena in 4/4 time but played in syncopated triplets in such a way it gives the impression of waltz ¾ time. A similar theme was performed the same somewhat confusing way in the composition “Springtime in Azalea City” many years later.
The second movement leans heavily on variations on Skip James “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” with intersected motifs from Willie Newbern's “Roll&Tumble Blues”.
The third movement can rightfully be described as a scherzo, a lively spirited uptempo dancetune, with themes and motifs most probably of Fahey origin.
And the fourth movement finale in slow tempo mainly consisting of various licks and passages that can eventually be traced back to Charley Patton.

As a conclusion then that Fahey in his long epic pieces along with his own material also included material from his main musical sources such as prewar rural blues and “oldtimey mountain” music. This of course making him as much a compilator as a composer.

“Revelations on the Bank of Pawtuxent” is an almost identical copy of “Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Philip XIV of Spain” recorded in 1962 and included in “Death Chants” album and also earlier recorded for Fonotone as “Smoky Ordinary Blues” so I can see no good reason for including it in this album because I find “Revelations…” apparently inferior to “Dance of the Inhabitants…”

“Poor Boy” is the Fahey rendition of a Bukka White recording for Library of Congress in the end 30s and it stayed in the Fahey repertoire almost throughout his whole career and was rerecorded several times…almost tiresomely so…

“Variations on the Cocoo”. I have heard this one hundreds of times during the years without really listening to it until the last couple of years and thereby noticing the strange beauty of this tune.
It is a fantasia, a set of variations based on one single banjo sequence transposed to guitar from Clarence Ashley's “The Coocoo”…and it gives, if anything, the emotional meaning of what could be called “that high lonesome sound of the Appalachia”.
A true classic Fahey!

“The Last Steam Engine Train” is a little bagatelle of fingerpicking guitar music that takes off somewhere around Nashville and landing somewhere between Sam McGhee and Chet Atkins.
Fahey claims it to be his own composition and as far as I can remember it never was a part of his concert repertoire or rerecorded by Fahey although it was later recorded by Leo Kottke for his acclaimed Takoma album “6&12-string guitar”.

“Give Me Cornbread When I'm Hungry”…(Give me corn whiskey when I'm dry, pretty women all around me and sweet heaven when I die).
When dealing with Fahey's music…especially with his early classic recordings…it is helpful to always bear in mind that Fahey was a renowned scholar, liebhaber and collector of old blues and “folk-music” records already in the early sixties.
For that reason I presented the lyrics of one special verse from Doc Boggs'”Country Blues” above… because it gives a kind of meaning to my “complaints” hereunder.

The main tune is, if any, to be cathegorized as one of the foremost classic Fahey compositions from this early period and pointing forwards to things to come. A beautiful melody and with some references to Willie Brown, stalwart of Charley Patton and Son House, thrown in here and there…

And this piece of music as presented on the cd really stands in its own right!

But!…and a very important “but”….In fact the title of this piece of music refers to the aforementioned “Country Blues” by Doc Boggs because in the original vinyl issue there was an attached coda of about 1½ minute length that in fact was Fahey's rendition of “Country Blues” and thereby giving the whole musical package its meaning and context as far as the title concerns!….”Country Blues” is absent in the cd reissue!
And for that reason I will give the producer/editor of the cd the rating “not approved” because of the apparent lack of knowledge of basic Faheyana!

“The Dance of Death” was the final track on the vinyl albums and bears the same title as the album itself.
Noteworthy is that in this album, as was otherwise customary in other Fahey albums at this time, the final track is not a hymn or psalm but instead an original Fahey composition and furthermore that it is not taken out of or resembling the material that was usually and generally the basis for Fahey's music in the first half of that decade, namely the rural blues and mountain music.
Instead we here have an original composition performed in an unorthodox guitar tuning and full of dissonances, strange harmonies, uncertain modality and unusual melodic material giving the composition a haunting atmosphere and evoking feelings of disturbance and unpleasantness.

And of course not to forget that this composition was included as film-music in Antonionis “Zabriskie Point”

Years ahead of its time considering this was 1964!

I gladly give the original vinyl album “Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favourites” 5 stars!

The cd reissue, apart from the already mentioned fiasco on “Give Me Cornbread…/Country Blues”, contains four “bonus tracks” from the same recording session for Adelphi…namely “When You Wore A Tulip”, “Daisy”, “Sevastopol” and “Steel Guitar Rag” and it is easily understood why these were rejected from inclusion in the original album as they are not up to the same standard as the titles included there. By that not meaning that they are in any way of poor quality…they just do not match the rest.

And the mishap with “Give Me Cornbread…/Country Blues” taken together with the four bonus tracks leads me to the rating for the cd reissue of 3.5 stars.

Put Your past ahead of You…

Glassworks Masterworks Expanded Edition
Glassworks Masterworks Expanded Edition
Offered by ScreamingCd UK
Price: £8.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected things happen now and then...., 29 Dec. 2013
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...And that makes me wonder why I never heard this music when it was new...some thirty years ago.
But some things never come too late even if they come late...
And with the inclusion of some music from the ballet suite "In the upper room" makes it even more worthwhile!

To me it seems like it all depends on where You come from....And I came here via Penguin Café Orchestra, SPIRO, Keith Jarrett and similar things...

Tracks 2, 4 & 11 eleven I maybe can do without but the rest I find being interesting music for anyone interested in what can be labelled as just good music outside any cathegorization...In other Words; No label!...Interestingly enough! :-)

Put Your past ahead of You!

Price: £10.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fokminimalism, 10 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Lightbox (Audio CD)
Came here via Penguin café Orchestra and was not disappointed at all....On the contrary...very pleased with what I encounterd...Simply fascinating!

Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte (Bonus Track Edition)
Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte (Bonus Track Edition)
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5.0 out of 5 stars not exactly a review..but...., 26 Sept. 2013
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Sir John most definitely chose the right path some forty to fortyfive years ago, where so manny others went astray....And even the day that is today the ageing master presents us wondrous masterpieces like Palermo Snow....But this is where it all began....

Jeffes: Still Life At the Penguin Cafe
Jeffes: Still Life At the Penguin Cafe
Offered by westworld-
Price: £20.00

5.0 out of 5 stars not exactly a review...but..., 26 Sept. 2013
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Imagine a festive concert hall and the podium crowded with first class musicians dressed up in tuxedos looking like a disciplined bunch of penguins...playing beutiful music composed by the Master Penguin....And they say penguins cannot fly...I know they sometimes can...Listen and You will know why!

Simon Jeffes: Piano Music
Simon Jeffes: Piano Music
Offered by johnny8640
Price: £26.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not exactly a review...but..., 26 Sept. 2013
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You arrive here via The Köln Concert, Erik Satie and a little café full of arctic birds that cannot fly...but fly anyhow...Charming! Kora Kora and Silver Star of Bologna brightens the day...no matter how dull!

Price: £10.51

5.0 out of 5 stars not exactly a review...but...., 26 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Kaleidophonica (Audio CD)
Excellent....if You are rooted in the "folk-tradition", minimalism alá Glass et consortes and enjoy a café full of Penguins...This is absolutely something for You!....Absolutely without any doubt!

The Legend Of Blind Joe Death
The Legend Of Blind Joe Death
Price: £12.62

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars just a few words..., 23 Nov. 2009
Four stars....the music deserves ten stars...but there are some "ifs&buts"!
Have read all the reviews and comments above with great interest and also with great joy...joy to find that Faheys music still after so many years can arise so much feelings...
And also that one commentor clearly pointed out that Fahey could not be regarded as a blues guitarist and thus not be compared with House, James and Hurt...so correct!
The cd in itself, or should I maybe better name it "the project" is a good example of what can be achieved with limited space in preserving and presenting this legendary Opus Magnum...
The music itself is not so very much to say about...a dozen and more reviewers have done so, and done it good, and I myself have been hooked for some good forty years by now...so what more to say about the music? It speaks for itself!
But I have a few critical remarks on discographical details, common knowledge to Fahey aficionados but perhaps of some interest to those who are newly arrived in Faheyverse.
This whole project is built around the legendary Blind Joe Death LP, recorded in St. Michaels and All Angels Church in Adelphi Maryland april 1959 with Pat Sullivan as
recording engineer (and not in the cellar studios of Joe Bussard as some reviewer suggested) and issued in 100 copies.
This LP has through the years achieved a mythical status!
It consisted of 11 titles divided by one certain Blind Joe Death on side A and one certain John Fahey on side B.
Blind Joe of course being the pseudonum for Fahey.
In retrospect it can be stated the the LP was regarded as incomprehensible even by blues and folk-music aficionados by that time.
Having in the meantime issued his second record Death Chants Breakdowns & Military Waltzes it was later decided for a reissue of Blind Joe Death. Much of this beacause there was building up an increasing interest on the East Coast and especially in the Boston area.
Five of the titles were re-recorded at Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie Studio in Berkely in april 1964 and the LP was reissued with 10 titles in 1964. West Coast Blues from original track 1 side A was dropped.
And here begins "the Mystery"!
The Arhoolie session according to official Takoma discography claims re-recording of West Coast Blues, Uncloudy Day, Transcendental Waterfall, On Doing an Evil Deed Blues and In Christ There Is No East Or West.
Three of these were replacing the same titles of 1959 on the 1964 reissue, minus West Coast Blues, which was dropped although also this one was re-recorded. Also Uncloudy Day on the reissue was then1959 version, although recently re-recorded.
A long lived rumour claims that Desperate Man Blues was re-recorded and replacing the 1959 recording on the 1964 reissue. This rumour has been proven false by lack of any documentation whatsoever of re-recording and by careful aural examination of the different editions by renowned Fahey-scholars.
There is also among certain Fahey-scholars the opinion that on the 1964 reissue, the 1959 version of St. Louis Blues is cut down by circa 30 seconds. And some others claim that this is not the case!
Without direct access to the actual 1964 record it is hard to have an opinion on this...but... in fact there is actually in circulation one version of the 1959 recording of St Louis Blues which is in fact cut down by circa 35 seconds!(The opening verse is omitted.) Now whether this edit was made for the 1964 reissue or if it is of a later date with the help of computerized music editing programs is beyond my knowledge.
Due to Fahey had come into recognition nationwide it was further decided in 1967 to do a complete new re-reissue and thus all 10 titles from the 1964 version were re- and re-re-recorded (did You follow?) plus a new title recorded and inserted in the Canon: I'm Gonna Do All I Can For My Lord.
This 1968 issue survived regular new editions up until well into the seventies.
It was also licensed for issue 1969 in Europe with hilarious cover art and sleeve-notes by Pete Drummond.
That edition, today a much sought after collectors item, was issued by Transatlantic/Sonet and was in fake stereo! Otherwise completely on the same masters as the American issue.
And now time for the re-entry of the mystery-section!
Simultaneously with the 1968 issue it was decided to issue a double-LP set in a very limited edition for "collector and scholar purposes" of Blind Joe Death 1964 version and Death Chants original version, which became Takoma 1000 Early Sessions. This is of course today a prizeless collectors item and by the way not to be confused with the Fonotone project by the same name.
The Blind Joe Death section in this set is the 1964 version minus Transcendental Waterfall, which makes it a 9 titles record, but with some very interesting sleeve notes on the discographical details claiming that Desperate Man Blues here is the earlier mentioned 1963 non-existing re-recording from the Arhoolie session!
This still remains a mystery to be solved!
Finally in 2005 there was issued a limitided edition collectors replica of the 1959 vinyl LP.

To conclude: The Blind Joe Death Canon consists of 12 titles, of which West Coast Blues was omitted in 1964 and I'm Gonna Do All I Can For My Lord was inserted in 1968. Five titles were re-recorded in 1964 and all of them, except West Coast Blues, were re- or re-re-recorded in 1968 with the inclusion of the new recording of earlier mentioned I`m Gonna...Subsequently it can be said that contents the Canon were
recorded 27 times between 1959 and 1968....so there exist 27 different versions of titles to take into consideration when dealing with Blind Joe Death!
Blind Joe Death had four official issues in USA and one in Europe.
Generally one speaks only of three issues as the double LP Takoma 1000 was a very limited edition soon withdrawn from the Takoma catlogue and the European issue was on USA masters although in fake stereo and with different cover.

This cd consists of 21 of the aforementioned 27 recordings and notwithstanding explanations by the editors I can not see why such a prestigous and mucicological as well as historical important project as The Legend Of Blind Joe Death was not allowed to exhibit all 27 recordings in the Canon! In the end of course it all
comes down to financial considerations from the recording company. But I had been so much happier with a double cd beginning with the 1959 version followed by the 5 Arhoolie re-recordings and finally the 1968 version!
Further more on the title index on the back of the cd the title On Doing An Evil Deed Blues is misspelled/ misnamed On Doing All Evil Blues!
Further in Glenn Jones liner notes, aside from certain discrepancies that have been already dealt with, he
claims that the Transcendental Waterfall used in the 1968 issue is the 1964 version cut down by four minutes!
That is not the case! This composition was re-re-recorded in a shorter version for the 1968 issue, as can be clearly heard on aural comparision.

And for those who have the interest there is a similar story as this one concerning sleeve cover art and another just as intriguing concerning sleeve-notes!
But I will leave that for another occasion!

P.s. As anybody will discover when digging deeper into Faheys music.... some of the titles in the Canon were recorded again in the seventies and eighties on the America-session and Railroad-session and ideas from Transcendental Waterfall finally came back in his long epic compositions on America and Fare Forwards Voyagers....

Put Your past ahead of You.....
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