Pithy yet perceptive views conveyed both gently and with verve.
On the first couple of spins this album’s greatest impact is the way tracks swing from quiet, almost quirky, acoustic musings to full-on indie rock with reverb blasting in all directions. It was a lot to take in. Fahey’s gentler side is certainly easier to get into where there is much to enjoy, but the overall effect is of an artist with plenty to say who is not afraid of doing just that in a variety of ways. Much credit must go to producer Dan Kowlake, who also plays just about every instrument on the record.
To follow up his 2021 release, ‘February on Ice’, Fahey set himself the objective of coming up with a “baker’s dozen” worth of songs for his fifth solo release. Pandemic and lockdown not only gave him lots of time for this task but plenty of inspiration, so much so that including some older songs he had a list of forty. With Kowlake he cut this back to the original number with the chaos and isolation of the times being the dominant themes.
Opener ‘All Quiet on the Midwestern Front’ places Fahey both geographically and historically, “there’s a vaccine on the horizon/ there’s a sunrise in the East/ there’s a peaceful, easy feeling/ it’s all quiet on the midwestern front”. Counting in this almost spoken intro to a sparse acoustic strum suggests folky, singer/songwriter with a quirky turn of phrase. The distorted electric guitar that flows adds to the feeling of timelessness that characterised lockdown days.
Next up is ‘Two Left Feet’ where in complete contrast, the amps are turned up as Fahey’s echoing vocals compete with a hail of fuzzbox fire. Lyrically the song lurches into imbalance far deeper than just “two left feet”. That is Fahey’s knack, using simple yet vivid language to make a serious point.
Fahey conveys that sense of lockdown disorientation with ‘Untethered’, a gentle acoustic muse about, “this unrelentless storm that never goes away”. ‘The Balmy Snows of June’ is Fahey’s take on climate change. A luscious electric line is the sonic equivalent of the isobars piling in to cause meteorological havoc. ‘The Day I Left The Flat Earth Society’ sees Fahey at his lowest ebb. Kowlake’s arrangements are suitably morose.
‘I Don’t Really Care’ is a chilling reminder of the events of 6 January 2021. A riff every bit and malevolent as those storming the Capitol accompanies, “the message on my phone “be there…/ it’s gonna be wild, wild, wild”/ we gotta fight like hell and stop the steal/ the storm is coming, reality’s gettin’ real”. Nothing quirky here.
Among these songs of contemporary American life it is perhaps surprising to encounter Ringo Starr. But nothing appears off limits to Fahey. ‘Nobody’s Afraid of Ringo’ comes with an almost country twang to which he pledges his admiration, “as everyone agrees he’s the G.O.A.T.”.
As for “sounds like” the best this reviewer could do was come up with is the Chuck Prophet vibe of ‘Down to the Wire’ with its frantic pace, spoken vocals over lots of distortion and keys darting in all directions. No doubt others will have their own ideas but on the strength of this record, and introduction to his music, Joe Fahey is an original. If any final convincing is needed then his final track, ’The Oldest Punk in the World’ should do the trick.