John Fahey – The Voice of the Turtle (1968) VBR

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JOHN FAHEY
Voice of the Turtle

Released 1968,Takoma Records
Issued on CD 1996

1. Bottleneck Blues 3:03
2. Bill Cheatum 1:52
3. Lewisdale Blues 2:13
4. Bean Vine Blues 2:42
5. Bean Vine Blues 2:48
6. A Raga Called Pat 9:03
7. A Raga Called Pat 4:25
8. Train 1:44
9. Je Ne Me Suis Revellais Matin Pas En May 2:19
10. The Story Of Dorothy Gooch 5:24
11. Nine-Pound Hammer 1:57
12. Lonesome Valley 1:42

Review by Richie Ubermench

Like some of John Fahey’s other projects in the ’60s, this was actually recorded and assembled over a few years, and primarily composed of duets with various other artists (including overdubs with his own pseudonym, “Blind Joe Death”). One of his more obscure early efforts, Voice of the Turtle is both able and wildly eclectic, going from scratchy emulations of early blues 78s and country fiddle tunes to haunting guitar-flute combinations and eerie ragas. “A Raga Called Pat, Part III” and “Part IV” is a particularly ambitious piece, its disquieting swooping slide and brief bits of electronic white noise reverb veering into experimental psychedelia. Most of this is pretty traditional and acoustic in tone, however, though it has the undercurrent of dark, uneasy tension that gives much of Fahey’s ’60s material its intriguing combination of meditation and restlessness.

Someone wrote on some website you might know:

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
–, December 14, 2003
By Benjamin S. Sandstrom (Minnetonka, MN United States)
I don’t know the complete story behind this record in reference to it being a hoax or a put-on or who played what. What I do know is that it’s my favorite John Fahey record, and if that makes me less enlightened than the average Fahey fan, I can live with that.

I don’t think it’s important that this record spends less time spotlighting Fahey’s guitar virtuosity than is normally the case. This is a record that’s about a certain ambience created by collage, and the fact that Fahey uses unknown accompanists and found sounds makes it no less authentic or personal than his other guitar-only recordings that the Byronic Fahey enthusiasts long for. What’s essentially important about the record is that Fahey was responsible for it, assembled it, and that it was born out of his head, if not always his hand. That’s why it’s valid.

As much of a purist as Fahey could be – perhaps wishing that he were around 40 years earlier to learn first-hand from his influences – he wasn’t an irrational purist. By that I mean he wasn’t afraid to like or use technology. He didn’t use technology as paint, so to speak, but rather as his brush, and ‘Voice of the Turtle’ was his most complete technological statement. It was extremely rare that Fahey used an electronic sound in his music, yet the way he assembled certain songs – and the the entire ‘Voice of the Turtle’ album – was influenced by modern technology in the form of found sounds and the occasional electronic drone or squak. The third and fourth ‘A Raga Called Pat’s on ‘Voice of the Turtle’, as well as the first two on ‘Days Have Gone By’ are not adventurous because they abandon his roots, they’re adventurous because they express his roots and vision differently. Instead of simulating an environment, an era, or a mood on guitar, Fahey gives them to you – straight-up – and then does his musical thing, whether it be guitar or something else, on top of it, making those pieces into virtual field recordings, and what’s more ‘Fahey’ than a field recording? That’s right – nothing. His roots and vision did not change on those pieces.

By saying that ‘Voice of the Turtle’ was Fahey’s most complete technological statement, I don’t imply that he necessarily used more technology than on any other record. It has to do with the coherence of the technology and how it brings the record together rather than isolating certain songs as in the case of ‘Days Have Gone By’ and ‘Requia’. The way the ‘A Raga Called Pat’s, ‘The Story of Dorothy Gooch, Part 1’ and the drone that opens and closes the record work against the more traditional material is purposeful, not merely experimental. The above songs give the more upbeat traditional pieces an interesting subtext of menace that suggests that even in good times, trouble is never far. They also re-inforce the doom-laden crossroads mythology that Fahey liked to play with in some of his delta blues pieces.

I can understand how ‘Voice of the Turtle’ can be lost on some who appreciate Fahey’s technique first and foremost, but what I can’t understand is why Fahey’s technique is first and foremost. He was one of the greatest artists of his time, avoiding retro by taking the time to understand history and then coming back again into the present to show us what he found and how it’s really the same.

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