Given how many recent musicians follow in the vein of acoustic guitar legend John Fahey, it's enjoyable to read Charlie Schmidt's liner notes for his debut collection, where he not only makes the debt explicit but discusses his friendship and collaboration with Fahey as it took place over many years. Like other recent releases on Strange Attractors by Harris Newman and Glenn Jones, Schmidt's work takes Fahey's as the touchstone to find his own chosen path, and Xanthe Terra -- dedicated to both Fahey and the astronomers and scientists working on the Spirit and Endeavour missions to Mars, where a geographical region provided the album's name -- is a deeply moving, entrancing series of solo compositions. Schmidt's own descriptions for his songs serve as the best written introductions in ways -- they cover everything from his work with Fahey to scientific meditations and (in a very Fahey-like move) mock historical invocations -- but the greatest joy of the album lies in simply listening to it and hearing Schmidt's often soothing but never dull performances, from revised waltzes to backcountry blues. "Samba De Xanthe Terra" is an early highlight, taking the musical form indicated and sounding like a lost soul in a beautiful but barren landscape under stars, a steady rhythm infused with romance. Other strong selections include "Firebird," a stately then playful piece inspired by Stravinsky, and "Doggie Blues," a simpler and perhaps surprisingly joyful number inspired by a childhood incident. Perhaps the funniest but easily one of the best selections is a full Fahey cover, "Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Philip XIV of Spain." Turns out according to Schmidt that Fahey specifically asked him to imitate his work for an early-'90s re-recording of the piece, and hearing both the skill and the joy in the soaring performance shows that Fahey knew what he was doing.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett