We need to give thanks for the gift of Bill Fay. He is a spiritual sage. We almost lost him completely.
My reviews of his previous albums told the tale of a songwriter who released two albums around 1970 and the disappeared into gardening. Forty years later he is tracked down and makes two of the last decades most beautiful records, Life Is People and Who Is The Sender?
At 75 Fay is at it again. Here are ten poetic spiritual reflections like no one else could gather, not even Cohen or Cave who might come closest.
Fay’s faith is central to the muse. The private nature of his persona means that we have no idea which of the countless branches of Christianity influences his thought. Is he Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox? Is he Hill Songs, Quaker or some weird cult? Does he practice or is it all personal?
The art is all the better for not knowing. One of evangelical Northern Ireland’s greatest heresies is the relativism of truth dependent on who says or sings it. If we can label the preacher or artist we can dismiss Biblical truth on the iota of doctrine by which they differ from me. It is a repugnantly arrogant kind of bigotry that has sadly a strong hold.
No, with Bill Fay we have just the songs. Beautiful songs. On Countless Branches they produced some of the songs and then decided that the best way to present these particular ponderings was with the sparseness of a lonely piano and the odd other instrument.
In the deluxe edition’s extra tracks we get to hear a couple of the full band versions. Personally I think they made the correct decision. How Long, How Long in particular loses something of its mood in its fuller incarnation. Having said that if they bring the full band version out before Christmas I would buy it too!
It is all about the content. Fay surmises time and eternity, the harsh realities of life and the hope of a love that remains. The apostle Paul, Isaiah, the Psalms, the covenant to Abraham, Jesus Beatitudes. Fay dabbles in them all and draws out this yearning for redemption that is not some momentary fix but a life long change of thinking and living. These are ten sermonettes to resource such a redemption.
A God given gift!