Jake Xerxes Fussell
What In The Natural World
Paradise of Bachelors - 31 March 2017
Jake Xerxes Fussell is set to release his second full-length album, What in the Natural World, which like its predecessor explores traditional songs from the American South, due out on 31st March via Paradise of Bachelors. The Durham, North Carolina singer and guitarist has shared “Furniture Man”, a desperate tale of poverty, dispossession, and imminent homelessness, as relevant and heartrending now as it was when first recorded in the 1920s. The track was premiered over at Aquarian Drunkard who said, "It’s difficult to imagine another contemporary interpreter delivering a tale of desperation and sadness with such tenderness, warmth, and grace. The room he leaves for the song to breathe allows it to flourish into its own fully-formed, nuanced world – one as familiar today as during the time of its origin. Here, Fussell taps into those roots and in turn carries the pathos across an entire century, creating something wholly his own. No small feat and just one of the many exhibits that display a truth as absolute as the suffering in this song: Jake Xerxes Fussell is a national treasure."
As Jake Xerxes Fussell explains:
"I learned "Furniture Man" from hearing the 1930 recording by Lil' McClintock, who apparently was a street singer from South Carolina. I've been playing the song for years now, but I've always changed up the arrangement in little ways to keep it going. Some of the guitar playing I'm doing on this recording is based on some little treble riffs I learned in Mexico -- nothing too advanced but they help the narrative roll along. Long before I'd heard McClintock's recording I was already partially familiar with the story because I knew a version of "Cocaine Blues" that this guy Doug Booth from Dothan, Alabama, used to sing which included a verse about the furniture man and how he was "a devil without any horns." I always loved that imagery. There are a lot of variants of the "furniture man" character out there in different folksongs. Country preachers even recorded sermons about the furniture man. The furniture man, the rent man, whatever you want to call him. The guy who's always there to collect a debt of some kind, whether you really owe him or not. Devil without any horns. It was a big topic for a while there, and in many ways, it still is."
Fussell’s What in the Natural World feels several shades darker, and unsettlingly funnier, than his William Tyler-produced debut, and you need only look around at our current national predicament for clues as to why. Since his debut release, Jake has played around the US, dueting with Tyler, touring with Mt. Moriah and Nathan Bowles.This month and next he'll be opening for Wilco and then will be heading to Europe for a tour with Daniel Bachmanin April/May.
Recorded by Jason Meagher (Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman) in Orange Co., New York, and by Nick Petersen (Mt. Moriah) in Orange Co., North Carolina, What in the Natural World features contributions from three notable Nathans—Bowles (Steve Gunn), Salsburg (Joan Shelley, Alan Lomax Archive), and Golub (Mountain Goats)—as well as Joan Shelley and Casey Toll (Mt. Moriah).
This time around Fussell has sourced his repertoire from beyond his primary Southeastern U.S. foraging grounds, including songs from the Southwest and even Wales. He encounters monsters, literal and figurative, everywhere in this landscape of loss and longing. Unlike his debut, the majority of these songs are not nominally traditional. Many are attributed to specific artists, both canonical (Duke Ellington) and obscure (Helen Cockram), and all are recast in vibrant, assured recordings that elide genres and dissolve the false binaries of tradition and innovation, folk and modern, old and new. Throughout, Fussell poses Natural Questions in the form of transmogrified folk/blues koans. These nine elliptical riddles, spare but sturdy, driven by Jake’s limpid guitar and understated singing, both absorb and reflect the conditions of their listeners, refusing to offer easy answers.