Release Date: Jan 17, 2020
Record label: Dead Oceans
Bill Fay and producer Joshua Henry were absolutely correct to strip the ten tunes on Countless Branches to their bare foundations. This is one of those rare records were extra additions aren't just unnecessary; fine as they are, the fuller arrangements of some of these same songs included here as bonus tracks suggest that Fay has cooked up material of such elemental and fragile beauty that any additional noises could easily scare away the magic. The sessions for Countless Branches were initially aimed at crafting the kind of economic and sparse yet nuanced band arrangements that fuelled Fay's first two "comeback" albums, 2012's Life Is People and Who Is The Sender? from 2015 (the 75-year old songwriter was dropped by his label after his second album flopped in 1971, only returning to recording after reissues of his early works had picked up the kind of cult following that evaded him during his first spell of musical activity).
It has been a long and winding road to the release of Countless Branches for 76-year-old Bill Fay. Back in the mid ’90s the London-born singer, pianist and songwriter spoke of his belief that his eponymous 1970 debut album had been completely lost, and that he thought no one was listening to him anymore. He had practically given up on being an artist after parting ways with his label.
It is an unmistakable fact that Bill Fay's rise to prominence in recent times is one of the greatest stories of contemporary music. His music might not have garnered sufficient attention in the 1970s, but fortunately, with this, his first album since 2015's Who Is the Sender?, his status as a modern chamber pop mainstay is strongly confirmed. Whether it's the piano-driven "I Will Remain Here" or the warmth of "Filled With Wonder Once Again" that first grabs you, what is clear is that, just like his Life is People album which won worldwide acclaim in 2012, Bill Fay's brand of straight-forward and yet heavy-hitting popular folk deserves a place in every discerning listener's library.
Had Jeff Tweedy not chosen to cover Be Not So Fearful in the 2002 Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the song's writer might today still be the relatively underground and unheralded figure he'd been for the previous three decades. The interest it rekindled in the music of Bill Fay led not only to his long-deleted back catalogue being reissued, but also to the now 76-year-old releasing a trio of new albums in the last seven years. The third of these is typical of the soft-spoken introspection and examinations of universal truths of an artist who, though first signed to a major label during 1967's Summer Of Love, was reluctant to be a player in a hippie scene for which he would seem to have been tailor-made.