Arts Desk

Harry Taussig’s Fate Is Only Twice, Reviewed

Eric Clapton may be forever known as "Slowhand," but he’s got nothing on the epically unhurried fingerstyle guitarist Harry Taussig, who plays slow and records even slower. After 47 years, Taussig has finally released his second album.

To be fair, Taussig recorded his first, Fate Is Only Once, in less than an hour. Although not many copies of the private press LP were made in 1965, he somehow garnered the attention of John Fahey, the influential, D.C.-born patriarch of American Primitivism. A couple of Taussig’s songs wound up on Contemporary Guitar, a seminal compilation released by Fahey’s Takoma Records in 1966.

After those early releases, Taussig wrote a few instructional guitar books and eventually became a photography professor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., for 31 years. By his own estimation, Taussig didn’t pick up a guitar for 35 years. In 2006, Tompkins Square reissued Fate Is Only Once, which inspired a friend to give him a $10 guitar. Taussig soon upgraded to a National Steel and began writing again, eventually collecting enough new compositions to fill up a new album: Fate Is Only Twice.

The long wait was worth it. Taussig’s style has slowed somewhat, and there’s a classical influence where the blues once dominated. But Taussig’s nimble fretwork and seamless tempo changes are still here, an amazing feat considering the half-century hiatus.

Several songs elegantly echo the past. On “Children’s Dance,” a spartan meditation, Taussig reworks a song that originally appeared on Contemporary Guitar. And the album’s sprightly highlight, “Rondo in D – On Southern Themes,” recalls the similarly vivacious “Rondo to Death,” from Fate Is Only Once.

Taussig studied physics in college, so he might realize he’s essentially experienced what his field calls the Observer Effect: Tompkins Square brought attention to Taussig’s early work as part of its curation of the fingerstyle guitar form, indirectly rekindling the lapsed musician’s passion for his instrument. Hopefully, he’ll call his next album something other than Fate Is Only Thrice, and not take until 2059 to release it.

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