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Popular Songs of Christmas & New Year's

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Album Review

The famously abrasive and eccentric John Fahey — a brilliant guitarist and composer who once recorded under the name Blind Joe Death — is not the first person one would expect to make a sweet and apparently unironic album of Christmas instrumentals. Being the bloody-minded coot that he was, he made several, all of them wonderful. Popular Songs of Christmas & New Year's is the second of them, this one recorded with the help of fellow guitarist Terry Robb. Almost all the tunes are familiar Christmas favorites, but few are commonly associated with the solo steel-string guitar: his gorgeous arrangement of the "Skater's Waltz" would come as a surprise if his approach to it weren't so natural as to make it sound inevitable; similarly, his elegantly simple setting of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and his slowly loping, Merle Travis-on-Quaaludes arrangement of "White Christmas" bring new insight to overly familiar material. Only on a strangely enervated take on "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" does he sound like he's having anything other than a lot of fun. His guitar is maybe a bit too closely miked and his tone a bit astringent, but this is a delightful record in almost every respect.


Born: 28 February 1939 in Takoma Park, MD

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

One of acoustic music's true innovators and eccentrics, John Fahey was a crucial figure in expanding the boundaries of the acoustic guitar over the last few decades. His music was so eclectic that it's arguable whether he should be defined as a "folk" artist. In a career that saw him issue several dozen albums, he drew from blues, Native American music, Indian ragas, experimental dissonance, and pop. His good friend Dr. Demento has noted that Fahey "was the first to demonstrate that the finger-picking...
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