Few guitarists, even ones leaning toward the eccentric, would dream of pasting together a 19-minute instrumental out of various improvisations. But John Fahey is on his own planet, and he assured that fingerstyle guitar would never be the same when he issued The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party on his own Takoma label in 1966. The album features Fahey's more experimental explorations on the guitar between 1962 and 1966, ranging from solo guitar on "Guitar Excursions Into the Unknown" to the eerie organ accompaniment on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." The intriguing "900 Miles" finds Fahey's guitar intermingling with Nancy McLean's flute, creating a surreal, mysterious mood. "Knott's Berry Farm Molly" begins by rolling along like a traditional folk instrumental only to switch abruptly to a backward-tracked guitar. Mysterious Al Wilson adds the sitar-like sounds of the veena to several tracks, including "Sail Away Ladies," meshing his eastern touch into the fabric of Fahey's open tunings. Despite the multiple approaches, this album is surprisingly cohesive. Perhaps it is the experimental air of every selection, or just the unifying element of Fahey himself. The album ends, as many of Fahey's albums of this period did, with a religious instrumental, "Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel." The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party is a fascinating experiment that finds the artist taking some real chances and succeeding.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.