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Scott Fagan
South Atlantic Blues Jeremy Allen , October 20th, 2015 20:17

The concept of the "lost classic" has seen its mystique diminish since the reigns of the record companies became looser. A proverbial dam burst as the 20th century became the 21st, leaving us swimming mostly in polluted waters. At the risk of wringing the metaphor dry, there's just so much turd-infested water gushing at us now that there's barely time to reflect, let alone go back and recover what might have sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

In the 21st century there must surely be thousands of lost classics on MySpace made by artists who were without the wherewithal or the funds for a decent PR campaign; their music just sits there not being listened to in some virtual Pompeii, camouflaged by a near infinity of infernal files that could bung up a billion hard drives with bilge if unleashed by some dastardly digital Moriarty. It is far easier to compartmentalise in our minds the idea that a classic could be lost in the year 1968 than in, say, the year 1998; the extended purgatorial wait makes it seem that much harsher, while the idea something of the quality of Scott Fagan's South Atlantic Blues could go missing at all during the supposedly more selective sixties seems very careless indeed.

Fagan, who was 19 or 20 when this album was recorded, certainly exuded enough star quality. If the voice of Psychedelic Furs' singer Richard Butler sounds like David Bowie and Johnny Rotten at the same time, then Fagan reminds you of Bowie and Scott Walker with each line he sings (he actually looks a bit like Butler on the cover, shot by Joel Brodsky, with maybe a hint of the beautiful and weary tragicomic colossus, Peter Cook).

Fagan's backstory is almost as interesting as the record itself: he grew up in the US Virgin Islands, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday, and while on the islands became the unwitting biological donor of later-lauded, literate pop prodigy, Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. Aged 19, Fagan did a flit from the islands via a schooner headed for Florida, and hitchhiked back to his birthplace, New York City, arriving with 11 cents in his pocket. With 10 of those cents, he called the Brill Building and secured himself an audition, with a publishing deal following soon after. Despite working alongside the likes of Neil Diamond, and being under the tutelage of the songwriting giant Mort Shuman, the success his own offspring would enjoy would elude Fagan himself for the best part of his life (this record and his backstory would have been lost had the Saint Cecilia Knows label not stepped in).

Songs as wonderfully spartan and groovy as 'In My Head' have thankfully been saved, and despite the fact music itself has been so devalued by sheer volume and accessibility, there's something about this opener that has an unmistakable gravitas about it; an instant refried classic if you like, given its puzzling lack of plaudits first time around. 'Nickels and Dimes' is noirish and kaleidoscopic at the same time, swishing around in an inebriated state, waltzing with abandon and dazzled by mirrors. Musically 'Crying' somehow precedes Lambchop by nearly 30 years, and waiting for Kurt Wagner to arrive is almost tantalising until you realise he's not coming. And 'The Carnival's Ended' might be the best thing here; incorporating steel instruments and upbeat brass sounds, it manages to convey a kind of nostalgic pathos that you might find in a good Ray Davies song; the paradox keeps you on your toes and toys with your emotions throughout.

So how could a record like this just accumulate dust in the vaults for so long? Perhaps one reason is that people weren't ready for it yet. If Fagan does sounds like Walker and Bowie (or even Anthony Newley who Bowie borrowed from), then remember Bowie was a misfit in 1968, and although he scored a hit with 'Space Oddity' the year after, he was then regarded as a one hit wonder for what would seem like an eternity, until he finally came up with Ziggy Stardust in 1972. And what's more, Bowie wouldn't go on to attempt the kind of white boy, parping brass, Stax soul sound that Fagan pulls off here until the mid-seventies. Scott Walker too was out of favour come the end of the sixties. Scott 4 - now probably his most critically lauded album - failed to chart when it was released in 1969, suffering the indignity of being deleted soon after. So then maybe the cream does rise to the top, no matter how long it takes. Perhaps the unsung heroes of the MySpace generation will one day be celebrated long after their chips have been cashed in. There's a thought. In the meantime, it's been a long interregnum, but maybe Scott Fagan's time has come at last.   

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