1964's Dance Of Death sees the artist transforming as the blues and country roots are spiced with the sounds of Mancini and Shankar in the increasingly surreal environment of Takoma Records
Unlike many products from that mythical golden age, John Fahey's sixties albums continue to grow in stature: not only do they mark one culmination of the early sixties blues/folk revival - which Fahey himself helped to stimulate - but they also point forward to the open-ended creativity and psychological depth of the psychedelic boom. Coming with their own mythology - as expounded in the original liner notes and illustrations - they exist in a world of their own: hypnotic, emotive, timeless.
THE DANCE OF DEATH AND OTHER PLANTATION FAVOURITES is Fahey's third album, recorded in August 1964 just after the field trip during which Fahey, together with friends Bill Barth and Henry Vestine (later of Canned Heat), rediscovered long-lost bluesman Skip James in a Mississippi hospital. As Fahey himself recalls in the reissue liner notes: It was an interesting session. It was the only one I ever did on marijuana and whiskey. It was kind of bouncy, you know.
"DANCE OF DEATH" fuses the traditional deep blues/ country repertoire that Fahey had been obsessed with since his early teens with other, diverse styles: Henry Mancini (Wine and Roses), Ravi Shankar (On the Banks of the Owchita), sentimental Tin Pan Alley compositions (extra cuts exclusive to this reissue like Tulip, Daisy and The Siege of Sevastopol). Emboldened by these possibilities, Fahey broke his self-imposed three minute 78 format with epics like Dance of Death (7.35) and What The Sun Said (10.08).
Almost impossible to find since its original late sixties UK issue, THE DANCE OF DEATH is the ninth album in Ace's comprehensive reissue of John Fahey's sixties catalogue and represents a crucial stage in the development of this unique guitarist: no longer tentative or imitative, but confident enough to transcend his sources. It remains as fresh as the day it was recorded.
By Jon Savage