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Holiday Tunes Watch: Fantasy Collects John Fahey’s “Christmas Soli”

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John Fahey - Christmas Soli

The late John Fahey might not be the first name associated with Christmas music.  But the steel-string acoustic guitarist and pioneer of the American Primitive Guitar style recorded a number of albums of holiday music, one of which (1968’s The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Solo Christmas Album) remains the most successful release in Fahey’s catalogue.  Fantasy Records’ new compilation Christmas Soli brings together fourteen songs from Fahey’s four holiday platters released between 1968 and 1982.

Fahey’s fingerpicking guitar style proved itself remarkably adaptable to holiday music of both the religious and secular varieties.  Fahey’s minimalist style brought out a stately, often hidden beauty not just in traditional melodies but in Great American Songbook standards by Irving Berlin (“White Christmas”) and Mel Torme and Robert Wells (“The Christmas Song”).  Bluegrass, country, folk and particularly the blues all informed the young Fahey, who released The New Possibility on his own Takoma label.  Named for Fahey’s hometown of Takoma Park, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, DC), Takoma was at one time or another home to other famed musicians including Michael Bloomfield, George Winston and Leo Kottke.

From The New Possibility, Christmas Soli reprises five tracks including Handel’s “Joy to the World” and traditional tunes such as “We Three Kings of Orient Are” and “Auld Lang Syne.”  The album was such a success for Fahey that he returned to the Christmas well with Christmas with John Fahey Volume Two in 1975.  Three tracks have been taken from that LP, including a medley of “O Tannenbaum” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” with “Jingle Bells,” and a duet with Richard (Rick) Ruskin of “Carol of the Bells.”  Guitarist Ruskin recorded three albums for Takoma.

Fahey’s next holiday-themed release, John Fahey Christmas Guitar Volume One, arrived in 1982 on the Varrick label.   Consisting almost entirely of religious-themed favorites, three tracks appear on Christmas Soli: “The First Noel,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Silent Night.”  The final album represented here is Popular Songs of Christmas and New Year’s, recorded with fellow acoustic guitarist Terry Robb and also released in 1982 on Varrick Records.  That album featured many secular Christmas songs, two of which appear on the new anthology (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “The Christmas Song”) along with a medley of “Deck the Halls” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  (The original album also featured Fahey’s surprising renditions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow,” among other holiday staples.)

After the jump: more on Christmas Soli, including the full track listing with discographical annotation and order links!

John Fahey passed away in 2001 at the age of 61, but his guitar explorations continue to resonate today.  In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked him the 35th greatest guitarist of all time, and a documentary film entitled In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey was released this year.  (Blind Joe Death was the mysterious bluesman whose music appeared on the second side of Fahey’s first album in 1959.  Though Fahey had invented the character of Blind Joe Death, Takoma kept the not-so-secret ruse going for years, even creating biographical information about Fahey’s supposed mentor!)  Christmas Soli doesn’t contain any new liner notes, but all tracks have been remastered by Bob Fisher.  The album is available in stores now from Fantasy Records, and can be ordered at the links below!

John Fahey, Christmas Soli (Fantasy FAN-34805, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Joy to the World
  2. Hark, The Herald Angels Sing/O, Come All Ye Faithful
  3. We Three Kings of Orient Are
  4. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Fantasy
  5. Auld Lang Syne
  6. Oh Holy Night
  7. Christmas Medley: O Tannenbaum/Angels We Have Heard on High/Jingle Bells
  8. Carol of the Bells (with Richard Ruskin)
  9. The First Noel
  10. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
  11. Silent Night, Holy Night
  12. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  13. Medley: Deck the Halls/We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  14. The Christmas Song

Tracks 1-5 from The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Solo Christmas Album, Takoma TAKCD-8912-2, originally released 1968
Tracks 6-8 from Christmas with John Fahey Volume Two, Takoma TAKCD-8912-2, originally released 1975
Tracks 9-11 from John Fahey Christmas Guitar Volume One, Varrick VR CD 002, originally released 1982
Tracks 12-14 from John Fahey with Terry Robb, Popular Songs of Christmas and New Year’s, Varrick VR CD 012, originally released 1982

Written by Joe Marchese

December 3, 2013 at 11:19

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