Christmas With John Fahey, Volume II
1. Oh Holy Night
2. Christmas Medley: Oh Tannenbaum, Angels We Have Heard On High, Jingle Bells
3. Russian Christmas Overture
4. White Christmas
5. Carol Of The Bells
6. Christmas Fantasy (Parts One & Two)
Tracks 1,2,3 and 5 are in duet with Richard Ruskin.
Recorded at United/Western Recording, Los Angeles
Mastered at Fidelatone by Bruce Leek
Artwork by Stephanie Pyren
CD pressing 1986, Takoma Records
thanks to Rab Hines for the rip
Well this medicine may be too late to cure the auditory disease known as Christmas Music Earworms, considering that many of you have been subjected to the stuff for well on two months now. But better late than never.
This is a holiday record by that most unlikely Santa Claus, guitarist John Fahey. He had released an earlier (and far superior) Christmas album called The New Possiblity, hence this one being dubbed a “Volume 2.” It is not your average Xmas record and probably won’t fit on a playlist with Johnny Mathis. Just stare at the album cover for a while and you will swear that somebody spiked your eggnog with something a bit stronger than rum.
While the New Possibility was a revelation for me, this record is a little bit of something that Fahey rarely was: predictable. And I say a LITTLE BIT because it’s not an entirely fair criticism. Maybe he just had so much fun making the first one that he was compelled to make a second, or maybe there was commercial incentive involved. The album is consistently pleasant, but there just aren’t many surprises until you get to the second side. “Oh Holy Night” is pretty but kind of tame, and the Christmas medley is actually kind of bad. Things get much, much better with the Russian Christmas Overture. White Christmas has the kind of halting slippages that make you think they might be mistakes but then we all know Fahey was a genius and MEANT it to sound that way, right? This is the only track on the first side that is not a guitar duet with Richard Ruskin (who also had three records put out on Fahey’s Takoma label). Maybe that is at the core of my misgivings – Ruskin is an excellent guitarist, but so much of what charms me about Fahey are his idiosyncrasies coupled with his mastery of the instrument, and when playing with other musicians those idiosyncrasies are by necessity kept in check. “Carol of the Bell” is quite gorgeous, however.
The second side of the original album is one long, meandering acoustic guitar experiment called “Christmas Fantasy” – the kind of Fahey you had begun to desperately miss after five fairly straight arrangements. Playing all on his lonesome, he can manipulate time and space and bring me to that same cocoon-like, familiar place as his most cryptic and dense material, and make me feel welcome with Yuletide cheer. It sounds mostly improvised although knowing Fahey it is probably more planned-out than it sounds. As fun as it is, it almost feels like over-compensating for the straight readings of the material on the first side. A bit self-indulgent, maybe, although I don’t mind it when Fahey indulged himself.
From the very first notes of “Joy To The World” on The New Possibility, you knew you just signed on to a singular experience. Possibly bordering on the transcendent. Traditional Christmas material approached with Fahey’s vast musical knowledge but none of the reverence usually accorded to it. I don’t use the word “irreverence” because it’s not as if there was anything iconoclastic about the record – it was just refracted through Fahey’s interpretive lens, which was always kind of bent. The “Volume II” album, on the other hand, comes across mostly as just straight-up Christmas music that happens to be played by John Fahey and a friend (except for the bonkers second half).