Old Music Tuesday: Bill Fay's 'Be Not So Fearful'

Bill Fay in the early '70s.
Courtesy of Dead Oceans

The story of English folk singer Bill Fay is both heartbreaking and inspiring. A gifted songwriter with a profoundly affecting voice, Fay released a couple of albums in the early '70s. But they didn't sell very well, he was dropped by his label and largely disappeared.

Over the decades that followed, Fay kept writing but mostly kept to himself, taking on odd jobs here and there. His music might have been lost and forever forgotten if it weren't for a small but loyal group of better-known artists who've covered Fay's songs, such as Nick Cave, Okkervil River and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who covered Fay's "Be Not So Fearful" in the 2003 documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. Here's Fay's original version, from his self-titled 1970 record.

Now in his late 60s, Fay is about to return with his first new album in more than 40 years, called Life Is People (love the title). You can hear a breathtakingly beautiful cut from it called "The Never Ending Happening" on our Summer Music Preview.

The title of his new record says a lot about Fay's work. His songs are often existential, full of a quiet awe and wonder. He's a plainspoken lyricist who seeks to make sense of an often baffling world, finding eternal truths — love, compassion, humility — on both a cosmic and personal scale. It's so good to hear him back in fine form. Hopefully we won't have to wait another 40 years (at which point, let's be honest, I will likely be dead of old age) for another collection of Bill Fay songs.

Life Is People is out Aug. 21 on Dead Oceans.

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