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John Fahey Gets a Reverent 'Transfiguration'

Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens has flooded the marketplace with tributes, from album-length studies of Michigan and Illinois to tracks on compilations celebrating the music of Tim and Jeff Buckley, The Beatles' Rubber Soul, experimental guitarist John Fahey and more. Combined with Stevens' remarkable Christmas EPs -- not available commercially but circulated freely on the Internet -- the past few years have produced a flood of material, to the point where it becomes easy to take his prolificacy for granted.

The mostly instrumental "Variation on 'Commemorative Transfiguration & Communion at Magruder Park'" appears on I Am the Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey, a set that also features such Stevens contemporaries as Devendra Banhart, M. Ward, Calexico and Grandaddy. Though it's not easy to graft an artist's distinct personality onto the late guitarist's source material -- and many of those paying tribute don't bother trying -- "Variation" actually sounds like a Sufjan Stevens song.

It helps that the 1968 original provides a natural inspiration for Stevens' characteristically ornate flourishes and fanfare: He's even inspired to sing the hymn at the end ("All Creatures of Our God and King"), which here brings to mind the rich beauty of Stevens' holiday series. The result serves as both a fitting tribute to Fahey's work and a stirring reminder of Stevens' gift for sublime reverence, religious and otherwise.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day'.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)