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Jad Fair & Yo La Tengo

There are plenty of performers who rock critics compliment by using the label "primitive," but few if any can hold a candle to the greatest American rock primitive, Jad Fair. With his fantastic and increasingly influential band, Half Japanese, or as a solo performer, Fair has constructed a prolific and extremely interesting career. He writes and records songs that display an uncomplicated emotional directness, unselfconscious (almost hokey) charm and warmth, and a genial simplicity that is simply beyond words. Although Fair's later recordings are certainly more accessible -- in some ways resembling those of another great American primitive, Jonathan Richman -- his stock-in-trade is still the ability to compose and play music without any discernible (i.e., traditional) musical talent. Although he has "played" guitar since the mid-'70s, Fair, according to past and present members of Half Japanese, still can't name a chord, plays riffs almost by accident, and wouldn't have it any other way.

Fair's career as a solo artist began in 1980. It wasn't that he was particularly upset or unhappy with the direction in which he and brother David were leading Half Japanese, but rather that he needed another outlet to satiate his obsessive desire to make music. The first efforts were tentative and, in terms of the noise-versus-music factor, more noise than music, akin to early Half Japanese records. But by the mid- to late '80s, Fair's solo records were becoming more accessible due to the contributions of celebrities and huge Half Japanese fans such as Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis, NRBQ's Terry Adams, and Gumball mastermind Don Fleming; with the members of Yo La Tengo, he even cut an album, Strange But True, which was released on Matador in 1998. And while the records got a little more polished, they certainly never lost a bit of Fair's childlike view of the world, nor his explosive, giddy belief in rock's liberating potential and endless possibilities.

In Fair's world, love is the key to solving the world's problems, but his naiveté-as-philosophy, while not deep, is never rank or manipulative (you always believe that he believes). And although he can sound cloying at times, the honesty and joy of this music will let you forgive his occasional excesses. By not being your typical singer/songwriter, Jad Fair has made the world a safe place for those who care passionately about rock & roll, but who don't feel the need to achieve any degree of virtuosity. It's Spooky, issued in summer 2001, continued his quirky reign. That same year, Fair reunited with Daniel Johnston for Lucky Sperms: Somewhat Humorous, followed by collaborations with R. Stevie Moore (FairMoore) and Jason Willett (Superfine) in 2002 and 2003. Six Dozen Cookies, a Jad and David Fair production, arrived in 2006, followed by Halloween Songs (2008) and I’ll Be Moe (2009). Beautiful Songs: The Best of Jad Fair, a triple-disc retrospective spanning Fair's solo career, as well as his work with Half Japanese, arrived in 2011. That same year saw the release of a new solo album, His Name Itself Is Music. ~ John Dougan, Rovi
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