Jake Xerxes Fussell's quirky and exuberant, William Tyler-produced self-titled debut of Southern folk and blues songs turned out to be one of my favourite albums of 2015; it was the most fun I'd had listening to traditional music in a while, and it was beautiful.
So it was a bit of a surprise, then, to hear Fussell redirect his current in a more subdued, sombre -- bleak even -- direction on What in the Natural World, his deeper, more complex sophomore album. Here, optimism is always married with pathos and/or danger; and likewise, pathos tends to carry a barely hidden dose of humour.
Traditional music can feel too often like a costume party—you see the surfaces, and those surfaces might be impeccably detailed, but you're missing everything about the past that matters. Jake Xerxes Fussell's music is deeply traditional, in the sense that it's built from, and connects to, the music of the past. But it’s no costume party.
In early 2015, Georgia native Jake Xerxes Fussell delivered a remarkably durable debut with his eponymous William Tyler-produced effort on North Carolina's Paradise of Bachelors label. His warmly reimagined arrangements of arcane Southern blues and folk tunes somehow eschewed the scholarship of their origins and cast them in a new light that was of neither 20th nor 21st century provenance. A sense of timelessness is a tough trick to pull off, but Fussell has somehow carved a path that detours around dusty Americana retroism and detached modernism to occupy a strange little niche of his own.
You'd think there were bogeymen enough in this forsaken world without North Carolina's singer-guitarist Jake Xerxes Fussell raking up another flock. Yet here he is, casting back into the treacherous mires of traditional song, plucking out a grab-bag of goblins, gremlins, malevolent maidens, whip-cracking corporate werewolves and barbequed dragons, his adopted narratives spooking the ley lines separating man and their perilous myths. Here, fellows have fangs and devils are born without horns: a blurring of beasts that augurs for today.
Photo by Brad Bunyea Some say that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, but Jake Xerxes Fussell puts forth a different notion. Did you know that history repeats itself? That today's news was reported in papers and broadsides and sea shanties a couple hundred years ago? In micro and macro patterns, humanity keeps going through the same motions. Whatever you think is important may be anathema, obvious, or forgotten in a hundred years time, but people will still be screwing each other over, screwing around, and hanging on for a few brief years of dear life.