Life Is People is Bill Fay's first non-retrospectively released album since 1981. His first two, Bill Fay and Time of the Last Persecution, were released at the beginning of the '70s, sold poorly, and were not reissued until 1998. Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow, recorded with the ACME Quartet, was self-released in a very small quantity in 1981, before it was picked up by David Tibet's label for general release in 2007. Life Is People's producer Joshua Henry (who grew up listening to Fay's early albums via his father's vinyl collection) and engineer Guy Massey, persuaded Fay to reenter the studio, enlisting Matt Deighton, Mike Rowe, Matt Armstrong, some string players, four singers from the London Community Gospel Choir, guitarist Ray Russell, and drummer Alan Rushton (both played on Time of the Last Persecution). Jeff Tweedy (a longtime champion) also appears. Fay plays piano and sings. Fay has written songs and recorded at home for 40 years, when he wasn't working in factories, shops, and parks. His experiences as a writer and as a citizen are inseparable from these strange songs, which are the works of a master craftsman. His bittersweet reflections on wasted life, loss, death, grief, environmental apocalypse, and human frailty are balanced by themes that affirm tolerance, healing, love, and spiritual redemption. Now in his late sixties, Fay's voice is seasoned, but not weathered. It's plaintive; it imparts the great wisdom in these songs humbly and without artifice. But there is no preparation possible for hearing Life Is People. It's an intimate recording even at its most epic and majestic, as evidenced by the glorious opener "There Is a Valley" and the shimmering "The Healing Day." The liturgical organ and piano that introduce the album's centerpiece, "Be at Peace with Yourself," is, in its repetitive subtlety and grace, a hymn to self-acceptance that is stated elegantly and without bombast. When the choir enters, the song lifts off, rooting itself deep in the scarred human heart. Elsewhere, Fay's sense of intimacy expresses world-weariness and haunted despair, such as on "Big Painter." Fay performs solo on "Jesus, Etc." (written by Tweedy), which makes a perfect bookend to the stark gospel prayer "Thank You Lord." In between them is the foreboding "Empires," a 21st century blues with stellar guitar work from Russell. "Cosmic Concerto (Life Is People)" gorgeously celebrates life in the process of being lived, be the circumstances mundane or profound. Fay (who is donating his proceeds to Médecins Sans Frontières) performs these songs as if they were living things, independent of his inner world. His reverence for them makes the listening experience one of great emotional depth. Life Is People brims with compassion, vulnerability, and tenderness. It is not a comeback record but a late continuation, a great work of art.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek