José Mendeles “Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems”

Jealous Butcher, 2022

Mendeles’ mysterious and atmospheric tribute to avant garde guitarist John Fahey.

Music is the most transportive of media; just the merest hint of a tone or rhythm can take the listener somewhere else, either to a place or time from the past, or to somewhere maybe only ever imagined. And so it is that with the initial softly picked bluegrass rhythms and brushed snare of album opener “Please Send to J.F.” the listener is delivered straight into a landscape of dusty railroad tracks, sun bleached mountains and distant shimmering heat mirages. The ‘J.F.’ in question is John Fahey, and “Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems” is drummer Jose Mendeles’ musical tribute to the late American guitarist and composer. 

Former Breeders drummer Mendeles leads the project; the Portland native’s subtle, textured rhythms anchor eleven instrumental pieces showcasing the improvised guitar playing of featured collaborators M. Ward, Marissa Anderson and Chris Funk, as well as interpretations of original Fahey compositions. With the musical emphasis on mood and timbre rather than melody, and the loosest of structures, the album feels more like a complete whole, rather than a set of individual tracks. The arid Delta bottleneck and understated but relentless percussion offer a cinematic, ambient listening experience. “You’re not thinking, you’re feeling”, says Mendeles of the connection to Fahey’s transcendental states, and the same can said of the pure and honest sound that results from the relaxed, organic recordings that comprise “Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems”.

The closing piece on the album, ‘Voice of the Turtle’ is underpinned by a found recording of John Fahey himself, describing the mediative state he would often enter when playing, as Mendeles’ cymbals wash and Funk’s slide guitar swells pensively beneath Fahey’s trancelike soliloquy. 

This evocative and strangely beguiling record gently unfolds as the listener travels through its parched scenery; close your eyes and you can almost visualise the desert sun setting over a far horizon.


About Paul Gibson 18 Articles
I'm a singer-songwriter based in Warwickshire, influenced by Americana, country and folk. I gig regularly around the area and when not making music I'm listening to or writing about it.
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