Reissue 1986 Takoma Records CDP 727-20
Distributed by Allegiance Records
Japanese disc pressing
John Fahey – Guitar
CD Mastering by Michael Boshears
1. Joy to the World
2. What Child Is This?
3. Medley- Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful
4. We Three Kings of Orient Are
5. Auld Lang Syne
6. The Bells of St. Mary’s
7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Fantasy
8. Go I Will Send Thee
9. Good King Wenceslas
10. The First Noel
11. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
12. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
13. Silent Night, Holy Night
14. Christ’s Saints of God Fantasy
I am on principle oppossed to the very idea of “Christmas music” records. It does not even stem from my firm self-identification as an agnostic pantheist that I feel such strong opposition. It is purely out of my allegiance to the idea of good music, or — if you must — music snobbery. Holiday music just tends to bring out the worst in everybody. I don’t even have to use the new Bob Dylan record as an example, because everyone knows that album was recorded as a Dadist satire resulting from a bar bet Dylan lost to Allen Ginsburg in New York in 1963 and he is only just now getting around to honoring it. No, with very few exceptions, “Christmas music” is one of the stronger arguments for atheism out there.
Not so with John Fahey’s wonderful “The New Possibility” recorded in 1968. Committed to tape with more pathos than piety, this record emerges as a sober meditation amidst a string of more irreverent, experimental, and chaotic work that Fahey was engaged in while acting as self-appointed curator and deconstructionist of the entire musical canon that would someday be termed ‘Americana.’ In this auditory journey he proves himself equally adept at plumbing the depths of European as well as (North) American folk musics in selecting his Yuletide favorites. Fahey’s guitar playing is not at its best here (in fact his slide playing on ‘Silent Night’ ranks among his most sloppy and careless) but the oneness of intent with which he carries it all off makes technique unimportant. Fahey put out a few other Christmas albums after this, all of them more polished, but this one is by far the most compelling. It’s just him, his guitar, and a wallop of plate reverb. If you listen close you can hear some pretty drastic tape splices but if they don’t bother me that much, then chances are they won’t bother you either.
There are some obvious choices here in the repertoire — Joy to the World, Aud Lang Syn, The First Noel – but all are given new life in Fahey’s hands. The less obvious choices are especially a delight – William Dix’s hymn “What Child Is This?”, more familiar to our ears as “Greensleeves” being one of them. Other fine performances are “Go I Will Send Thee”, a blues rendition of a black spiritual, and “Lo, How A Rose E’re Blooming”, which might well be my favorite song on the whole record, a sixteenth-century German song (Es ist ein Ros entsprungen) that found its way into the Anglophone songbook in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Also of note is his slow finger-picked version of “The Bells of Saint Mary’s”, which according to legend inspired yet another version of the song played with mallets on white mice that charted as a hit single during the Christmas season of 1969 (reaching #13 in the UK, #27 in the US, and #1 in Japan).
Fahey simply can’t restrain himself from some experimentation, and he stretches out on “Christ’s Saints of God Fantasy”, a loose and freeflowing adaptation of a J.C. Hopkins tune that, oddly enough, has a copyrighted interpretation on file from Madeline Peyroux although I am not sure if she ever recorded it.
An interesting oddity about this 1986 CD pressing — the inlay card has the last two songs out of order, listing ‘Silent Night’ as the closing track. In fact Silent Night is the logical choice to end the album, and it appears to have been so with all vinyl pressings (I am not sure about subsequent CD reissues). The track order is printed correctly on the disc itself (by which I mean, correctly as the music contained on it plays). You might want to do some rearranging in you music player of choice and put Silent Night back where it belongs, at the end of the record….
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