by: Conor James
Originally published on the old KLC Tumblr blog: March 16, 2017
Elwan and Your Past Will Come Back to Haunt You: The Fonotone Years [1958-1965] are both albums that guitar lovers (and lovers of righteous music) will love to marinate in. DOn’t wait, download these albums, put your ipod shuffle in your back pocket, and get to walking.
Last month, Tuareg blues rockers from the Sahara Desert region of Mali “Tinariwen” released their seventh album Elwan through Anti-Records on February 10th. On the same day, the John Fahey retrospective compilation album Your Past Will Come Back to Haunt You: The Fonotone Years [1958-1965] was published for streaming on Spotify (the album was originally released on CD on Oct. 10, 2011). Beyond both hitting the net on the same day, the two albums both feature the guitar as a primary story-teller.
Elwan begins with two distorted guitars speaking back and forth in mimicked melodies in the song “Tiwàyyen". The sounds are soon joined by the hand percussion which quickly reminds listeners that these blues musicians are not westerners and though wielding the electric guitar, they come from a distinct musical tradition. This blend of emotive rock and rhythmic elegance is further textured by the often call and response, chant-like gang vocals. Tradition-inspired Tuareg melodies are sung in Tamasheq and the rough tenor of many of the male vocalists is downright hypnotic. The lack of English should not deter any American listeners, as the melodies and instrumentation are equal parts catchy, engaging, familiar, and new. In addition to this, anyone who enjoys the guitar will have no trouble listening to any Tinariwen album start to finish. Beyond spoken language, the guitar weaves a tale of it’s own, dipping in and out of parallel melodies to the vocals, taking time to converse with the other instruments, or lamenting in wailing solos.
The track Ittus is a phenomenal example of the guitar’s narrative work. The first minute is entirely trod upon by a single somber electric guitar. By the time a solitary voice joins the
guitar, it is easy to feel the impression that the singer is accompanying the voice of the guitar, and not the other way around. With closed eyes, the guitar in this track can be seen leaving lonely impressions in the Saharan sand as it crosses the three minute song.
The album is rich and filling, with thirteen tracks to make you move and feel feelings you could not begin to express with words (instead, reach for a guitar).
Favorite Track: “Assàwt”
Your Past Will Come Back to Haunt You: The Fonotone Years [1958-1965] is a whopping 105 tracks of pure American primitive guitar music, (excluding the first track which is a cheeky interview with Fahey). The bulk of the album’s instrumentation is much more minimal than Elwan, with most songs only containing the sound of a single acoustic guitar, but like all the great American primitivists, Fahey manages to multiply the sound of the guitar into the sound of three guitarists all playing at once. Many of the tunes are folksy and merry, such as “Over The Hill Blues”, others are slow and melancholy, “Takoma Park Pool Hall Blues” being a prime example, and some are proto-psychedelic, like the trippy and shaggadelic track “Transcendental Waterfall (2)”. On later discs, the songs begin to include vocals like on the jaunty “Zekiah Swamp Blues”.
The music feels timeless in a way that is always old and nostalgic. It is a pleasure to listen to a mostly stripped down journey of perhaps the most celebrated American primitivist, and the opening track in which Fahey describes his first time ever recording music sets the whole epic collection in a mood for travel and movement, though not too quickly. Like Elwan, the album is of another place and time while seeming comfortingly familiar. Some of the songs could easily be something your friend recorded in their bedroom.
Overall, the album is the perfect thing to pop onto your ears during a nice trip in the woods, and a fantastic celebration of John Fahey’s early music.
Favorite Track: “Little Hat Blues”
This post is part of The KLC blog Archive. The previous & now defunct KLC blog, formally known as The Umbrella, can be found here.