Like some of John Fahey's other projects in the '60s, this was actually recorded and assembled over a few years, and primarily composed of duets with various other artists (including overdubs with his own pseudonym, "Blind Joe Death"). One of his more obscure early efforts, Voice of the Turtle is both listenable and wildly eclectic, going from scratchy emulations of early blues 78s and country fiddle tunes to haunting guitar-flute combinations and eerie ragas. "A Raga Called Pat, Part III" and "Part IV" is a particularly ambitious piece, its disquieting swooping slide and brief bits of electronic white noise reverb veering into experimental psychedelia. Most of this is pretty traditional and acoustic in tone, however, though it has the undercurrent of dark, uneasy tension that gives much of Fahey's '60s material its intriguing combination of meditation and restlessness.
Few guitarists, even ones leaning toward the eccentric, would dream of pasting together a 19-minute instrumental out of various improvisations. But John Fahey is on his own planet, and he assured that fingerstyle guitar would never be the same when he issued The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party on his own Takoma label in 1966. The album features Fahey's more experimental explorations on the guitar between 1962 and 1966, ranging from solo guitar on "Guitar Excursions Into the Unknown" to the eerie organ accompaniment on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
This early-'70s effort by the great fingerpicking solo guitarist actually defies what has come to be known as the "Swami Satchidananda rule for guitarists." Without naming any names, it has been observed in the past that when a guitarist decides to make a recording in tribute to the Swami – who was quite the subject of idolatry in this time period among certain performers – the results are usually among the worst in that artist's discography. Not so for Fahey, who didn't strike most of his fans as the type who would want to have a guru, anyway.
Fahey recorded two versions of this album, one in 1963, the other in 1967; this deluxe reissue gives you both! This was his second album, and the first to get any kind of distribution (the re-record benefits from better fidelity); with compositions like When the Springtime Comes Again; Some Summer Day , and the epic America , it's essential.
The title The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites might lead some to believe that this is a collection of public-domain items that go back to the Deep South of the 19th century. However, while this 1964 session does contain a song titled "Dance of Death," most of the material (including that tune) was written by Fahey himself in the early '60s. So an intriguing title is simply that: an intriguing title. Nonetheless, Fahey's music does have strong southern roots. Unaccompanied, the acoustic guitarist/instrumentalist demonstrates his love of African-American blues as well as the Anglo-American country, folk, and hillbilly music of Appalachia.
Sam Graham once referred to Fahey as the "curmudgeon of the acoustic guitar," while producer Samuel Charters noted that Fahey "was the only artist I ever worked with whose sales went down after he made public appearances." This tumultuous spirit, in turn, made tumultuous music on albums like Days Have Gone By, filled with odd harmonics, discord, and rare beauty. The esoteric titles like "Night Train of Valhalla" stand beside more abrasive ones like "The Revolt of the Dyke Brigade."
A strange man, John Fahey, with an unusual set of guitar styles. This album, originally released on Riverboat Records and later reissued by Fahey's own Takoma label, has a lot of rough edges in terms of the recording but a tremendous amount of power when it comes to the music. Fahey was at the top of his game, alternately playful and dark, so there's never a dull moment. There is always something new to be heard on each playing.