Life Is People
Bill Fay’s eponymous 1970 debut revealed a peculiarly British knack with tangential quotidian detail. The following year’s Time of the Last Persecution posited an intense apocalyptic vision, drawn in part from a close reading of the Catholic thinker, Teilhard de Chardin. Traces of both survive in Life Is People, Fay’s third fully realized album, released this summer, a mere 41 years after the second. The difference is that this is palpably an old man’s album. Fay is now 68 and the wild, prophetic voice of youth is tempered with redemptive yearnings, the cosmic sweep and the poetic minutiae distilled in a hard-won wisdom.
Fay’s liner notes explain that Life Is People was initiated by American producer Joshua Henry and recorded by a cast of, if not thousands, then more than a few. These include 1970s Fay sidemen Ray Russell on guitar and drummer Alan Rushton, four members of The London Community Gospel Choir and Wilco’s Je Tweedy. For the most part the collective efforts of these and others serve Fay well, only sometimes overwhelming the delicate songs and Fay’s aged croak with a surplus of detail. Most of the album’s many great moments occur when Fay is given space. ‘ The Healing Day’ waltzes past with stately gravitas worthy of a better-tempered Van Morrison, while the meshed guitars of album opener ‘ There Is A Valley’ bear up Fay’s declamatory vocal with appropriate restraint. Meanwhile, a spare piano and voice rendition of Wilco’s ‘Jesus, Etc’ and the church-hall hymnology of ‘ The Coast No Man Can Tell’ evoke late-period Dylan communing with David Ackles in a North London allotment. It’s difficult to imagine a higher recommendation than that.