By David Werther
Bill Fay, Who is the Sender? (Dead Oceans, 2015)
Bursting bombs, rapid-fire shots, shrieks, shrill sirens, and shouts of denunciations and denials dominate the soundtrack of 2015. But in the midst of this mayhem, there are the “beautifully hymnal”* and “delicately probing piano ballads”** of Bill Fay, music The New York Times describes as “gentle to the point of frailty.”*** The Times’s phrase is apt and picks up on one of the song titles, “A Frail and Broken One.”
There is a pervasive sadness in “Who is the Sender?” Sadness but not self-pity. In one song, Fay calls our attention to predation; it is the nature of the hawk to kill and “he ain’t praying for forgiveness,” but he then draws a convicting contrast: although we are not natural killers, we pay our taxes to “The War Machine.”
In “Freedom to Read” Fay recalls a visit to the banks of the Thames to see a statue of William Tyndale and express his gratitude for words passed down to his grandma in her parish church and then to him. He quotes Tyndale’s words, as he is burned alive: “open the King of England’s eyes.” And notes well that Tyndale’s killers were “nothing short of a dark religious cult.”
Perhaps Fay himself is the subject of “A Frail and Broken One,” someone who has suffered but still finds himself in the light of God’s presence. No one pronounces a blessing better than such a one. And so it is fitting that the uplifting blessing, “World of Life,” follows on the heels of “A Frail and Broken One.” This new year, may we all know this blessing.
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