Music Review: John Fahey - Christmas Guitar Soli

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John Fahey (1939 - 2001) loved to take older, familiar forms of music and present them in new contexts. The title of his first Christmas album certainly speaks to this, The New Possibility (1968). He clearly enjoyed giving Christmas songs the "Fahey touch," and the new Christmas Guitar Soli  draws from the four holiday albums he recorded. Besides The New Possibility, they are Christmas with John Fahey Volume II (1975), Christmas Guitar Volume I (1982), and Popular Songs of Christmas & New Years (1983).

Christmas Guitar Soli is a 14 song compilation, with new artwork by Tom Weller. Weller designed the cover art for many of Fahey's recordings on his own Takoma Records label, including The New Possibility. His design for this package is very much in the "classic" style. The collection is presented in chronological order, with five tracks from The New Possibility, three from Volume II, three from Christmas Guitar, and three from Popular Songs.

The sound of Fahey's steel-string guitar is mesmerizing, and his style of playing was already firmly established by 1968. If I did not know that these songs were from albums recorded over a 15-year period, I would never have guessed. The playing is superb throughout. For those who are looking for something a bit different, I would recommend checking out the three tunes from Popular Songs of Christmas & New Years. The album features a series of guitar duets with fellow guitarist Terry Robb.

Although The New Possibility has reportedly sold over 100,000 copies, it is an unfortunate fact that John Fahey will probably always be considered a cult artist. A big reason for this was his lack of patience for the politics a major label deal would have entailed. Fahey did not suffer fools gladly. He was nothing but gracious to his fans though. I had the good fortune of seeing him perform live in Seattle once, and he had a marvelous sense of humor onstage. He even hung around the lobby to sign autographs afterwards.

"The New Possibility" is a great title for Fahey's music in general, and he influenced numerous  guitarists over the years. Leo Kotke and William Ackerman are just two that I can think of off the top of my head. In some ways, I envy those who have never heard him before, because they are in for such a treat. The way Fahey made his steel-string acoustic guitar sing is indescribable.

For those who are unfamiliar with the music of John Fahey, this set of his greatest Christmas hits is a fine place to start. These are very well-known tunes, and provide a marvelous introduction to his style.

There may be others out there like myself, who felt that owning one Fahey Christmas album was enough. I play The New Possibility every year, and now with Christmas Guitar Soli I have an opportunity to sample what I was missing from his later efforts. I may wind up getting the duet album, as I quite like what I have heard here - but for now Christmas Guitar Soli is an excellent addition to my burgeoning Christmas music collection.