Recommendations for a Fahey fan
December 3, 2007 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me some old, weird Americana in the vein of John Fahey, please.

Listening to John Fahey late last night, I realized I'm in the mood for more weird, backcountry yet kind of avant garde music. I like his guitar playing, but what I'm really after is that mood, if that makes sense (this is why I like Fahey more than Leo Kottke). I'm thinking of things like his "Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California" or some of the abstract stuff from Yellow Princess.

Stuff I've already found:
  • I have a passing familiarity with old bluegrass, country and roots, but it doesn't go much deeper than, for instance, the Carter Family or Robert Johnson.
  • I've heard the recent Fahey tribute album
  • I know the bigger artists associated with modern, freak-folk stuff. I'm mostly looking for older stuff, but since I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of that genre, let me know if there's a particular modern artist I should check out.
  • I've seen this thread, which seems to focus more on current bands. But I'm looking at it nonetheless.
posted by nasty, brutish, and of average height to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
You might like Skip James , who was a great songwriter (though there's not much of it - he cut one album in the 30s). Here's my favourite song of his (in a weird but good cover version) and here's the man himself.
posted by tiny crocodile at 7:30 AM on December 3, 2007

Pretty different stylistically from Fahey, but Hasil Adkins and Legendary Stardust Cowboy are two favorites of mine in the "old weird...." category.
posted by deern the headlice at 7:35 AM on December 3, 2007

People Take Warning! Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs, 1913-1938. Man, today we all just sing about bling and booty, when back in The Day, it was drownings and train disasters as far as they ear could listen.

Preacher Boy. Bluesy, folksy - try his most recent Demanding to be Next for some nice, bleak yet wistful mood music.

Daniel Johnston. I like the Discovered, Covered disc as an intro to Daniel Johnston - it combines a 'best of' with a bunch of matching covers by people you've actually heard of (Bright Eyes, Beck, Tom Waits, etc).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2007

Best answer: He's famous from being in the Red Krayola and is notable for also having influenced many of the same folks Fahey has inspired, but Mayo Thompson's 1969 album "Corky's Debt to His Father" (reissued in 1994 by Drag City) is a must have from this genre, IMO. I'd suggest a track to sample at the amazon link, but they're all great.
posted by activitystory at 7:38 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well for old and weird, there's Captain Beefheart, who's been a huge influence (although I've never really gotten into his stuff). Beefheart recommends One Sting Sam, which will lead you to a couple of interesting blues compilations.

Weird and avant garde, but not so backcounrty: Eugene Chadbourne and Moondog.

Looking for those two links above, I found this excellent post about old-timey folk on MySpace.

Sir Richard Bishop is often compared to Fahey, although he's perhaps more like Kottke (less mood) crossed with Django Reinhardt.

Don't forget Robbie Basho, not to be confused with Steffen Basho-Junghans. Another modern artist you should check out is James Blackshaw.

You might also like this recent askme on moody Appalachian music.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:43 AM on December 3, 2007

Should also have mentioned, from the depression era, Leadbelly. There's also a contemporary of Fahey's you might like - try this snippet of Dave Van RonkCocaine"
posted by tiny crocodile at 7:44 AM on December 3, 2007

Best answer: For that same kind of mood, although more spare and less purely instrumental, I always go to Roscoe Holcomb and Dock Boggs. Both primarily played banjo, and are very haunting. Holcomb was only recorded later in his life, but as with many of the revival era blues players, Boggs recorded very early and then again late.

His early stuff was reissued by the record label Fahey started later in his life, Revenant Records. While not all of the things on that label meet your criteria, I do think the Sir Richard Bishop release and the Boggs and perhaps the Charley Patton (although that's very delta bluesy) all do. I also think that parts of the two compilations American Primitive, curated by Fahey, would meet your needs.

I'm a sucker for roots music, and I have unfortunately been disappointed with People Take Warning. It's got a pretty package, but the liner notes are not good, and I think it's too expensive for what you get.
posted by OmieWise at 8:04 AM on December 3, 2007

Best answer: Oh, I almost forgot the incomparably Sandy Bull, who is I think the closest contemporary to Fahey in terms of time and mood.

His first two albums are just masterful, Fantasias and Inventions. There is a good live set, Still Valentine's Day 1969, recorded in SF, that was, I believe, a date played with Fahey (and from which the Fahey live album The Great SB Oil Slick came). The live Bull isn't the best, he was a bit far gone into drugs, but the first two live albums are really good.
posted by OmieWise at 8:10 AM on December 3, 2007

The above are excellent choices; while most of the acts I can think of are in line with the aforementioned AskMe thread, I'd also like to suggest:

1) Gun Club. Try Fire of Love and The Las Vegas Story.
2) Inca Babies. Cowpunk with haunting/creepy/weird lyrics.
3) The Jonses.
4) Rank & File.
5) Lazy Cowgirls.
6) The Embarrassment's God Help Us.
7) Dream Syndicate.
8) Kill Ugly Pop! (No relation to Kill Rock Stars)
9) The Raymen's From the Trashcan to the Ballroom and Desert Drive. (No relation to Link Wray & The Raymen, though you'll want to give Link a listen, too.)
10) Bill Frisell - more on the mellow, contemplative side, but Good Dog, Happy Man had some interesting parts.
11) Alex Chilton, Alan Vega & Ben Vaughn: Cubist Blues; check out the individual and other collaborative efforts of the three.
12) The Meteors (UK).

And yeah, since I'm only one number away:

13) Deadbolt.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:37 AM on December 3, 2007

Try Alexander "Skip" Spence's Oar.

Great recommendation for Mayo Thompson's Corky's Debt To His Father, this is a masterpiece.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:24 AM on December 3, 2007

You might Try Michael Hurley, especially this one.
posted by ORthey at 10:48 AM on December 3, 2007

I recommend them all the time, so sorry to sound like a broken record (heh) on this score.... but Califone might be right up your alley. They've been described as "avant-rustic" -- a kind of experimental, deconstructed, lo-fi roots music.
posted by scody at 10:57 AM on December 3, 2007

Best answer: Check out Loren (Mazzacane) Connors (sometime Fahey collaborator, among may others) -- a bottleneck guitar player with a sparse, haunting, avant garde take on the blues. I am especially fond of of the music he has recorded with Suzanne Langille. 1987-1989 on Secretly Canadian is a series of takes on traditional blues and gospel songs suffused with a fragile melancholy. It includes a version of 'Kumbaya' that will make you reconsider everything you ever thought about that song.
posted by tallus at 11:37 AM on December 3, 2007

Second the Loren Mazzacane Connors. He put out some particularly bluesy live recordings with Alan Licht (Two Nights & Live in NYC, I mean) in the late 90s that I still listen to pretty often. Very understated, but easy to get wrapped up in if you choose to.
posted by activitystory at 12:32 PM on December 3, 2007

I third Loren Mazzacane Connors and second Alan Licht. You might also enjoy some of Jim O'Rourke's solo stuff (or Gastr Del Sol, for that matter, they did a 25-minute long cover of Dry Bones in The Valley with Tony Conrad) but some of it is kind of saccharine and MOR.
posted by apetpsychic at 1:08 PM on December 3, 2007

I love this thread; it has necessitated a sudden and drastic reprioritization of my music budget.

I wouldn't call anything I've heard by him rootsy, backcountry, bluesy, American, or even acoustic, for that matter, but you might want to check out Roy Montgomery's rather feedbacky solo albums, such as Scenes From the South Island or Temple IV. The closest John Fahey comparison I can imagine would be his later album Womblife.
posted by cobra libre at 1:52 PM on December 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the recommendations! I've grabbed almost everything that's available on Amazon MP3, and I'm thinking very hard about picking up several CDs as well.
posted by nasty, brutish, and of average height at 2:09 PM on December 3, 2007

Yes, Roy Montgomery too! Would he be considered Kiwiana?
posted by activitystory at 7:59 PM on December 3, 2007

Jack Rose fits the bill for a modern Fahey-inspired guitarist with that kind of feel. His MySpace page is here and contains the all-important free sounds.

Rather less known but also good is UK guitarist C. Joynes.

You perhaps also know Gastr del Sol for the experimental end of Fahey-inspired music. At the very least, I think they (David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke) were at the forefront of Fahey revivalism (it seems everyone is up to it these days). I don't know if that's what you're looking for but I had to mention it.
posted by galaksit at 6:42 AM on December 4, 2007

Also nthing Roscoe Holcomb. Check out some of the recordings by him and similar musicians that are available on Smithsonian Folkways. They've released all sorts of juicy comps, for example, Mountain Music of Kentucky and Classic Mountain Songs.

I've also picked up a few wonderful old blues and gospel recordings from Document Records. The recording quality is generally primitive and most of the musicians are obscure (to me, at least) -- which aren't bad things. Their web site can be a bit confusing to browse, though there are some neat features, like the ability to browse for artists by geographical origin. I suggest cross-referencing on Amazon when you find something you like, because Amazon has audio samples for many of their records.

Once you're back at Amazon, you should go ahead and sample some of the better known old blues musicians, such as those already mentioned (Charley Patton, Skip James) and people like Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, and Tommy Johnson.

I wish this thread wouldn't end.
posted by cobra libre at 11:43 AM on December 4, 2007

I've been meaning to get back to this thread for a long time, and post this story from the Washington City paper a few years ago, which lists both contemporary and current practitioners in the Fahey mode.

I was reminded because I've been listening to a lot of Jack Rose (already mentioned), and Paul Metzger, who fits into this group. I like Metzger quite a lot. He's playing banjo, mostly.
posted by OmieWise at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2008

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