Maybe because I’m now middle aged, more than likely closer to the end than the beginning, that I seem to be drawn to albums of a spiritual nature. Albums that carry a message. Don’t worry, I’m still a rocker at heart, but there is something magical about hearing an album that sort of transcends pure listening value and actually makes you feel…makes you think.
And so it is with the 2012 album ‘Life Is People’ by almost forgotten songwriter, Bill Fay. Fay recorded this, his first new recording in over 40 years, and it is a thing of sheer atmospheric beauty, offering commentary on what he sees around him and his hope and faith in what comes after. As I said, this is a spiritual album with plenty of religious imagery and references to God, but it’s not being thrust down your neck either. In fact, it feels more big picture stuff. His belief that basically all people are good, no matter what goes on in the extremes. And how man and nature do share an amazing connection, even though we are doing our best to destroy that. Let’s step back and just take the time to see how unbelievable our little planet is. That’s his message.
Bill Fay released two albums in the very early 70’s that were critically well received but failed to win commercial appeal. He recorded a third album but by that time he had been dropped by his label and it never saw the light of day. More or less since then, Bill retreated to an ordinary life, still playing his piano daily and recording hundreds of songs on his home recorder without ever bothering to re-enter the cut and thrust of the music industry. It wasn’t until some modern day artists, like Wilco and Nick Cave, started recording and championing some of his older songs, that he started to gain a cult status. This lead to his earlier albums, including the third unreleased album, being reissued.
And so finally Bill Fay was convinced to re-enter a studio and record a new album consisting mainly of songs that he had written over the years that were destined never to be heard.
Fay’s world weary voice, is so comforting when you hear it, like that old uncle, sharing stories about times past over a glass or two of scotch. The production on this album is large and spacious without being over the top. The use of strings and a gospel choir in parts give the album an epicness that belies its simplicity. This is definitely a Sunday morning album but stands up well in the still of the night.
Stand out tracks include opener ‘There Is A Valley’ which takes the point of view of nature looking at us and the mess we are making of this world. “Trees don’t speak, but they speak to each other”.
Or the atmospheric ‘City Of Dreams’ – “I’m your street sweeper, in your city of dreams, sweeping up the paper cups, between the limousines’ – a perspective of the ordinary man wondering once again, what has become of this world. ‘Be At Peace With Yourself’ is a song about no matter what, keep your chin up. Keep the faith. “At the end of the day, aint nobody else gonna walk in your shoes, quite the way that you do”.
And finally, the title track ‘Cosmic Concerto (Life Is People)’, grandiose, powerful and exultant in its message of the little miracles that we see in everyday life and the wonder that our planet can bring. “It’s a cosmic concerto and it stirs my soul.”
Fay also records the Wilco song ‘Jesus etc.’ and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy co sings on the track ‘This World’. The band, led by seasoned acid jazz guitarist Matt Deighton, is all quality, breathing life into Bill’s tunes, originally recorded with just voice and piano. This album is an incredible comeback from a man that was seemingly lost to the footnotes of time. Within the haunting beauty of this album, his messages are simple and obvious. Perhaps a few more of us should take heed.