When I write a review, I always sit down and listen to the recording in question. This often prompts a flood of related ideas and topics, allowing me to note my thoughts in the form of an evaluation. However, this is almost impossible with "America" by John Fahey, as each time I listen I find myself completely lost and adrift in the vast sound. Like an ocean of chords, Fahey's music seems to represent his steady and intimate flow of consciousness. All is laid upon the table in front of you, to digest accordingly, and nothing is hidden. The music slowly carves a path through your mind, as running water would do against a rock, eventually making its way to the core. A comparison to nature would be very appropriate in this context (and with much of American Primitivism), as many would find the raw purity to be similar (along with common themes).
Fahey's technique and influence are incredible, there is no doubting that. He is my favorite guitarist, and one of the most talented I can think of. Though lists such as these are often arbitrary, I find it nice to know that he was placed as the 35th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone in 2010 (though I'd place him higher). Nevertheless, this is not always the most important aspect of a great artist. As John Coltrane stated, "After all the investigation, all of the technique-doesn't matter! Only if the feeling is right." The feeling is surely right in this release, and in many of Fahey's. His emotions are directly presented to you in the form of this beautiful outlet, enabling some of the most atmospheric and immersive guitar work you will ever hear.
In 1959, John Fahey released his first official "American Primitive" release. Inventing a genre is never an easy task, especially one that requires so much mastery and effort. Along with many of his other releases, this album gives off a very specific feeling - most definitely intentional. It tells the story of a less flawed United States of America, a country of nature: plains, forests, creeks, a country of hope and opportunity, a country that lacks in the seemingly never-ending persistence of drama in our human world. When I listen to this release, I imagine myself sitting back in a rocking chair on my porch, looking out over the beauty of our land.
Beyond this all, "America" is simply a wonder to listen to. The sheer amount of perfect melodies, the open and personal performances, the evolving compositions, and the undeniable everlasting passion in the pursuit of music. This album is the culmination of years and years of hard work - and it shows. For me, this is the definitive Fahey record. It has one of my favorite songs ever made (Mark 1:15), it gets directly to the point by presenting itself as short and sweet (though the reissue is longer and also great), and it feels ultimately fundamental and important. Yet, Fahey's discography is so remarkable that I believe any album could be presented as the definitive, most important, or simply put: best record. Other works of his I believe stand almost as tall as this include: The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick, Fare Forward Voyagers (Soldier's Choice), and everything else.
Though I haven't heard all that American Primitivism has to offer, I would bet money that Mark 1:15 will remain my favorite song from the genre for all eternity. The perfection of this composition is mind-blowing to me, every second being just as enjoyable as the last - with nothing I would dream of changing. Even so, each song on this album is fantastic in its own way.
When talent presents itself in such a way as it did in Fahey, I often doubt there will ever be someone to take their place. I'm nearly certain this is the case, and as sorrowful as that may seem, it makes the work we do have all that much more special.