Song-Hark! The Herald Angels/O Come All Ye Faithful
As I have mentioned in a previous blog, for 14 years or so I worked in a large suburban Garden Center. When I was working there, in the late fall the last of the garden supplies would be packed away for the season. Plants, fertilizer, tools, hoses and everything else would be put in storage until the spring. The store switched over completely to become a Christmas Store, and around Thanksgiving thousands of Christmas trees would begin to arrive. Within a few days hundreds of them would be out on display in rows for people to walk through and make their selection. Being surrounded by the smell of all those balsam fir trees and listening to the wind whistling through them made you almost feel as if you were in a real forest rather than this artificial creation. Being a city/suburb dweller for all of my life it gave me a sense of nature in an odd way. So at this time of year when the trees start showing up on street corners, I often remember those moments, especially when accompanied by the guitar playing of John Fahey.
I suppose what I mean about a sense of nature is that sensation of being out in the country. Wide open spaces, fresh air and the invigoration that comes from having nature all around you. John Fahey’s Christmas recordings often have that same sense to them I find. When I started on various musical quests after college (and which I have mentioned in several blogs now), John Fahey’s name came up at some point, though not for Christmas music but more for his guitar virtuosity on the steel string guitar. The seemingly odd chord shifts and tuning that would beguile conventional guitarists became magic in his hands. There was much to explore but eventually, his epic 1968 album-The New Possibility:John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas album fell into my lap somehow. It seems strange to think it now, but back then it was even more groundbreaking than you might think today. Nobody else had really done a solo acoustic guitar Christmas album before, let alone one that approached it from a bluesy standpoint the way he did. He followed up over the years with a few other Christmas albums, which had a mix of recognizable standards along with some real Christmas obscurities and wonderful improvisational works that had a “Christmas” feel to them.
Apparently he felt annoyed or slightly bemused that the best selling albums he ever made were his Christmas albums, which is a shame. For me though Fahey did versions of songs like Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty The Snowman, they were far more complex than the cheerful and lifeless interpretations we are often bombarded with in stores and on the radio this time of year. The reason that solo guitar resonates so well for me is that it feels rustic. A reminder of simpler times before the over saturation of the season so many people resent nowadays. It takes me on a long drive out to the country and the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors. Though I could have chosen any song from the dozens of Christmas songs John Fahey recorded, I have chosen this medley of two of my most favorite Christmas songs-Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/O Come All Ye Faithful. So well known are they that they really do not require any elaboration on my part here, but I have always found them to have two of the best melodies in all of Christmas music, and I think that is the core of what Fahey gets to in these arrangements. So as I walk through the rows of trees at corner tree stands around I can briefly, if only for that moment imagine I am somewhere else. Somewhere out in the country maybe. And the music that will accompany that journey, or anytime I see a photo such as the one above, the music that will be playing for me is John Fahey.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing-Written by Charles Wesley
O Come All Ye Faithful-Attributed to John Wade and Rev. Frederick Oakley
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