Bill Fay Life is People(Dead Oceans) Buy it from Insound
Not sure how we managed to miss this one last year, but my guess is that if more of the Noripcorders had heard it, it might have creeped solidly into our best of the year list. Perhaps a guy his age, who first recorded in 1967 and last recorded in the 70s, is a bit out of our standard demographic, but with a champion like Jeff Tweedy on his side, he’s due a careful look or two. His first records never sold very well and hardly anyone knows his name, but after being dropped by his label in 1971, Fay never stopped writing music. Now he’s been given the opportunity to record again, and he has come up with a gem of a record, heartfelt and true, that hopefully will get him some of the attention he richly deserves.
Life is People is mainly populated with a series of mid tempo piano ballads, of which There is a Valley is a prime example. Fay is featured in spare arrangements with his voice and piano prominent in the mix. I’m sorry, but to these old ears there’s still nothing like a nice clean recording, where every instrument and every note matters. It remains the riskiest thing to do, since the artist is basically naked and needs to keep us interested sans studio trickery. Fay’s voice, presented up front and bare, has a natural vulnerability which brings to mind people like Gram Parsons and David Ackles, with all the cracks and wavers that most producers would cover up or, God forbid, alter with autotune. The sequencing here is interesting, because after the relative expansiveness of the opener, he retreats into a couple of slow, heart on sleeve dirges. Just as soon as you ready to leap from the nearest bridge, he drops in This World, a relatively upbeat tune featuring a duet with Jeff Tweedy. Fay’s influence on Tweedy becomes so apparent when you realize how hard it is to tell them apart at first. But of course Jeff is not exactly Sammy Davis Jr., and so this tune comes across a bit downcast as well, despite its open strumming reminiscent of Wilco’s Pot Kettle Black. With The Healing Day, we are back in the comforting arms of melancholia. So yeah, the whole thing is a bit of a bummer, but these are all really lovely songs, sung with such genuine emotion, that you can hear all the bottled up years of silence pour out like fine wine. Almost in a heartfelt thank you to Tweedy for keeping his name alive after all these years, Fay performs a beautiful solo version of Jesus, etc., just a man and his piano. Again, he does so much with so little, clearly a man out of time.
What I’m saying is, you need a little Bill Fay in your life. It’ll teach you a lesson about loss, redemption, all that shit. Thankfully, no one told him they don’t make records like this anymore. I’m sure he’s got more brewing inside him, or sitting somewhere on demo tapes, laid down over the many years of obscurity. I can’t wait to hear it all.7 January, 2013 - 09:50 — Alan Shulman