Review Summary: Fumbling away towards The End.
John Fahey is a pioneer in so many ways. The man was one of the first to DIY his own recordings and self-release his own work. He was the inventor of the American Primitive genre and helped pioneer a style of improvisation that would go on to influence many.
He was also a hobo, a drunk and would shag anything in sight.
When someone coined him as the Charles Bukowski of folk music, they weren't half wrong. John Fahey's work came from a very primitive place as he was a self-taught guitarist with a keen ear for music and many of his songs have a bodged together, Frankenstein's Monster like construction to them. Indeed John Fahey once remarked in an interview that he had tacked the chords from a Vaughan Williams' symphony onto the end of a song again evidencing how much of a melting pot his influences played in the construction of his music.
Consequently the music tends to have a very stop/start feel to it but contrary to this supposed problem, it makes the music feel more human. Fahey hesitates with chords and strums them a few times before settling on a path or plays an idea slowly, gently at first before deciding to develop it. Likewise many ideas are dropped soon after they are developed. Nothing ever feels half-finished though and the dissonances always feel natural; not too harsh and jagged yet dissonant enough to provide contrast and to forward the progress of the song. Consequently this brings Fahey's music into the rare sweet spot of being planned but sounding fully organic yet improvised, which it was.
This brings us to Fare Forward Voyagers
. It finds John Fahey embracing most of his eastern influences to the fullest extent, though no where near as much as contemporary Robbie Basho. This record also offers Fahey at his most focused with only three songs, two of which being raga-like extended 'improvisations.' On this record Fahey seems to hesitate less with less negative space involved in the music. He is more blunt and direct, at least when it comes to his use of dissonance and contrast. This, in particular, is displayed on the first track where Fahey strums and plucks as if he is almost angry yet the notes feel so strained they sound desperate. This is placed in abrupt contrast to a gentle plucking that sounds fragile and gives way to an almost apocalyptic anxiety. John Fahey has always been good at connecting his emotions with his music but here it feels at its most open in that he isn't just communicating contrasting musical ideas but journeys through states of feeling.
This is perhaps most evident on the final track where Fahey returns more to a blues/folk style while retaining the Modernist and Eastern influences. Some reviewers have described John Fahey's type of folk as apocalyptic and no greater example can be found than the title track where it builds from a hesitant yet relaxed plucking into a haunting yet sickly sweet farewell to a world about to be consumed by a mushroom cloud. This is, perhaps, Fahey's greatest work and stands as a powerful epitaph to all this man could achieve when he put his mind to it. Highly recommended.