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Led by drummer José Medeles (Breeders, 1939 Ensemble, Revival Drum Shop), Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems is a drummer’s tribute to guitarist and DIY iconoclast John Fahey. Joined for a series of guitar and drum duets with M. Ward, experimental guitarist Marisa Anderson, and Chris Funk (Decemberists, Stephen Malkmus), it’s a genuinely honorific project, featuring not Fahey compositions, but rather a series of improvised rendezvous inspired and informed by his looseness and rhythmic idiosyncrasies. Though Medeles knew and had interacted with all of his collaborators, the record represents the first time he’s played on a record with Anderson and Funk (though he’s contributed to Ward’s indie pop band She & Him). Recording in the comfortable setting of Bocce Recording in Vancouver, WA, in 2020, these duets are playful and spiritually deep, presented with snapshot clarity Medeles likens to the recordings of Alan Lomax or Chris Strachwitz, “who boldly captured field recording of Southern chain gangs and juke joint raconteurs decades ago. The result here is similar: pure and honest recordings.”
Single descrption: "Golden" featuring Chris Funk: With it’s thundering drums, rattling chimes, and spooky slide guitar, “Golden” from drummer José Medeles and guitarist Chris Funk (Decemberists, Stephen Malkmus) makes it clear that Medeles’ Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems, a drum and guitar tribute to the musical spirit of the late guitarist and DIY iconoclast John Fahey, isn’t a traditional tribute album. For one thing, there are no Fahey covers. Instead, the record, which also includes a number of duets with Marisa Anderson and M. Ward, aspires to play tribute to Fahey’s tricksy musical spirit and idiosyncratic rhythms. Like the other selections featured on the album, “Golden” was improvised, opening the floor for unexpected interplay. “When you have that kind of freedom, I believe you transform into that,” Medeles says. With his booming low string drones and blues runs, the performance speaks to Funk’s musical character. “You hear how mischievous he is,” Medeles says. “It takes him a minute to get inside the music, and when he does, it’s absolutely so solid.”
From Anderson’s Delta blues on “The Paper Snake” to Funk’s careening slide guitar on “Golden” to Ward’s elegiac electric guitar on “Richness of Peace,” these recordings connect to Fahey’s transcendent states. “It’s past physicality. You’re not thinking, you’re listening,” Medeles says. “Things like that don’t happen if you have any hang ups.
The record concludes with “Voice Of The Turtle,” a reverie from Funk and Medeles, who trade washes of cymbals and swells of slide guitar underneath a sample of Fahey speaking, describing the light trance he enters when playing and a scene of Robert Johnson, sans his guitar, entertaining spectators by clapping his hands. “I tried to imitate his rhythmic creativity...I had a lot of old blues records around...I listened to those and tried to imitate them as best I could.” With Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems, Medeles does the same, creating a generous space that invites the listener into the collective unconscious.