Back in 1970, Bill Fay began recording for Decca/Deram, fitting nicely in the niche being carved out by artists like Richard Thompson and Nick Drake. Intimate, almost baroque songwriters whose lyrics and song craft made them sound older than they were. In a time when popular music seemed to be taking a breath between the politically charged Sixties and the aggressive passions that would define the Seventies, this little pocket of more soulful, intimate musicians tried to plant their flag, some more successfully than others.
Bill Fay released two critically acclaimed albums, one in 1970, and a follow-up in ’71, then dropped out of sight. There isn’t even a story around his disappearance, no stunning flame out. He just wasn’t there. Nick Drake and Richard Thompson made their bones, Bob Dylan turned his focus on matters of the heart, and the world moved on. Bill’s albums sat in record collections, forgotten and dwarfed by more popular fare. Later musicians like Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and producer Joshua Henry knew of him as one of the discs in their parent’s record collection.
41 years passed. Forty-one. A literal lifetime. And now he’s released his third album. The fact he’s released an album is remarkable. What makes it more impressive is how good it is. Bill Fay’s new album, Life is People, is a genuine masterpiece. His voice isn’t as strong as it was in the Seventies (it’s not that he was absent, really – it wasn’t hard to find him on YouTube – it’s more that I never knew to look for him). But age suits his voice, and fits his songwriting more. He sounds a little like Ian Hunter, or a higher pitched Leonard Cohen. These songs sound lived-in, warm, and comforting. The spare arrangements and crisp production by Joshua Henry evoke Drake’s classic Pink Moon.
Earlier today I posted a video made for one of the songs on this album, “Be at Peace with Yourself”. Go back and listen to it, let it wash over you. As great as it is, this isn’t even the best song on the album. This is one of the best albums released this year, an auspicious return from an artist who should already be a legend.