RED CROSS

John FaheyListening to John Fahey's languid rumination on Irving Berlin's "Remember," you'll have no trouble sensing the pain and trouble of the Takoma Park-born guitarist's last years. The decade before Fahey's death in 2001 was marked by deep depression and occasional homelessness, though the pioneering folk/blues primitivist also experienced late-blooming vindication through renewed touring and recording. But the damage had been done, which may explain why, on the Berlin tune, Fahey's playing approaches the release of both late-night romantic confession and last will and testament.

Did Fahey know the end was near? The reflective mood of "Red Cross," recorded in the months before Fahey's death, suggests he did, as does the near-nostalgic simplicity of his approach. Fahey returned to his roots with solo acoustic improvisations on classic American pop tunes -- there's a lovely, lightly rolling reading of the Gershwins' "Summertime" -- as well as the blues. There's an extended variation on "Motherless Child" that's full of spooky reverb and angry energy, while "Charley Bradley's Ten-Sixty-Six Blues" moves from spry Piedmont-influenced rolls to an almost Who-like coda.

Fahey didn't completely abandon his experimental tendencies, though he minimized the electronic effects and avant-garde dissonance of his later work. "Ananaias" features some Eastern-sounding scales, while the electric-fueled "Red Cross, Disciple of Christ Today" opens up some edgy Neil Young-style discordance. The most riveting -- make that harrowing -- track is "Untitled With Rain," a seven-minute-long, doom-driven improvisation that sounds like an outtake from the soundtrack to "Apocalypse Now." Note the 17-minute silence -- yes, 17 minutes -- before the track rekindles, as Fahey loses himself in one final, pensive reverie so electric and personal that you'll feel him and his guitar fading away together.

-- Richard Harrington

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