Bill Fay hasn’t released a new studio album in 40 years. That’s right, forty! So it should hardly come as a shock that his new LP Life is People sounds oh-so-vintage in a good way.
Fay’s first two records–his self-titled debut and Time of the Last Persecution–were released in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Sales were poor, and although a third album was cut in the late 70’s, Tomorrow Tomorrow & Tomorrow didn’t make its’ way out of the vault until 2005. Like any rare and exceptional artifact, Bill’s music has become a target of collectors’ obsessions, and over the years has accumulated a surprising fanbase– most notably (and noticeably) Wilco and John Howard. Wilco’s interest in Fay has even become mutual–he’s joined the band for performances on multiple occasions, and put a piano-centric cover of “Jesus, Etc.,” on this new record.
Fay’s songcraft is luscious and powerful; his voice, a perfect median point between Dylan and Cohen. The album’s unadorned conclusion “No Man Can Tell,” is so beautiful and chilling. It’s on the level of Peter Gabriel’s “Father, Son” or a Jacques Brel performance of “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” The album feels a song or two long, but given the wait since the last release, a little extra material isn’t hurting anyone.
Life is People is a throwback, but it feels like it belongs on the shortlist of classics. So perhaps we must simply overlook its tardiness and smuggle it in where it belongs.