Much has been made of the rediscovery of Scott Fagan, and if we’re honest about it, much of that to-do has less to do with his artistry and more to do with his famous songwriting son.
His progeny’s style owes nothing to Fagan, and, really, it’s unfair to attach that familial baggage to this reissue of Fagan’s debut album, South Atlantic Blues. Fagan’’s got a fascinating back-story-a ragamuffin raised in the islands of the Atlantic in abject poverty, he would be something of a vagrant with occasional run-ins with the law and a number of brief incarcerations, before he decided to move to New York City to launch his career, which would entail the release of two albums before fading back into obscurity.
Fagan isn’t a Stephin Merritt-style singer, but he is an engaging singer a la Tim Buckley; in fact, it’s hard not to think of this as a companion piece to Buckley’s own debut album. There are some enjoyable numbers found here; I love the jaunty, oboe-laden “The Carnival Is Ended,” where Fagan offers up a breathy, Donovan-like tropical number. The folk-soul of “Crystal Ball,” “Nickels and Dimes,” and “Nothing But Love” initially feel underwhelming, but after a few listens, the rough, understated arrangement becomes quite charming. The five bonus tracks are lovely and accentuate the album’s ten songs quite nicely, even if they’re not particularly revelatory.
South Atlantic Blues isn’t an amazing record, but it is a promising one, taken from the era when the debut album was meant more as an introduction instead of a great statement. This album’s reissue provides an opportunity to reevaluate a musician who had been (unfairly but not unjustifiably) regulated to being the deadbeat dad of someone famous, and is successful in doing so. Fagan had great potential, but it simply didn’t happen for him, which is a shame. Don’t feel too bad; the copious liner notes tell of a wild, well-lived and well-traveled life, so even though he might not have had the success he deserved, it was but only one moment in the adventures of a world-traveling troubadour.
South Atlantic Blues is available now via Saint Cecilia Knows