Pickers With a Hint of a Grin Take on an Idiosyncratic Ouevre

With trepidation I approached the all-star alt-rock love letter to the late guitarist, label founder, archivist, field holler champion, and all-around shaggy super-genius John Fahey: Rare indeed are tribute albums worth listening to twice. My fear was that good-intentioned fans of the music would leach out the pep and wit of Fahey's idiosyncratic touch and sweat his technique to the detriment of the empathy, invention, playfulness, and joy found between his lines. But luckily, there is a lovely and loose air of thanksgiving to the proceedings, wholly in keeping with Fahey's all-inclusive spirit. Avatars like Lee Renaldo, Howe Gelb, and Pelt do their best to embroider their own stars and bars onto the fractured fairy tale of a flag that Fahey sewed by hand for years to cloak his bicentennial ghosts and keep the chill off whilst extracting gold from the mud of forgotten rivers. Devendra Banhart proves delicate yet untwee; Calexico's version of "Dance of Death" almost makes me want to buy a Calexico album. And highest praise of all: Ace mumbler and tribute producer M Ward somehow makes the insufferable Sufjan Stevens downright sufferable during that statesman's yuletidy stroll through Magruder Park.

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