Certain characters get tucked away into the framework of popular music, as influential as they are unknown, as often heralded as they are overlooked. John Fahey is one of these characters. Not currently – or ever – a household name, Fahey is an icon to many modern independent musicians, and his sound not only permeates through these contemporary torchbearers, but it continues to transcend all that is avant-garde in art. Testament to that point is the who’s-who of modern envelope-pushers that came out of the woodwork to lend their talents to Vanguard Records’ tribute, I Am the Resurrection.
You don’t have to know anything about Fahey to enjoy this record, but an understanding of his legacy might help in appreciating it. As far as acoustic music goes, there have been few performers as innovative as the Maryland-born guitarist. His oddly paced, cyclical style is at once confusing and gripping – perhaps the musical equivalent of the Greek Ouroboros. Using alternatively tuned guitars and melodic signatures influenced equally by American folk, blues and even Indian music, Fahey’s sound is not easily mistaken. Though always a stranger to fame, his legend grew over the years, with a discography boasting thirty-plus full-length releases from 1959 until his last collection of new material, released posthumously in 2003.
Tribute albums often tread on overly heady grounds, trying to sum up too much of the honoree’s essence into one disc. I Am the Resurrection doesn’t suppose to do that. It is more in a way, a “last respects” from artists appreciative of a man who has given them a path to follow and the confidence to stray.
The album’s best tracks come from its lesser-known contributors. Pelt takes its patented drone-folk treatment and expertly applies it to Fahey’s “Sunflower River Blues.” Peter Case keeps it very faithful to the original with his precisely played take on “When the Catfish Is in Bloom.” The big boys have their moments too, with good showings from both Sufjan Stevens (who provides the only singing on the record) and Devendra Banhart. The only real disappointment is that M. Ward – who also co-produced the record – chose one of the shorter songs to cover: the one-minute-forty-five-second-long “Bean Vine Blues #2.”
The best part of this collection is that the artists assert their own sound into the song they perform while paying careful mind to the original intent that Fahey laid down. The thirteen musicians involved on this record are just a small sampling of the many contemporary folk and rock heroes carrying on Fahey’s revolutionary tradition. Resurrection notwithstanding, it is safe to say his legacy will continue to flourish.