Jake Xerxes Fussell
Jake Xerxes Fussell grew up in Columbus, Georgia, surrounded by vestiges of fleeting southern culture. His father Fred Fussell is a folklore curator, photographer, and artist, and when Jake was a child he got to hang out with storied music archivists like George Mitchell and Art Rosenbaum, which led him to hook up with the documentary filmmaker Les Blank and tour with the legendary bluesman Robert Wilkins (from whom the Rolling Stones swiped “Prodigal Son”). On that tour he met fellow guitarist William Tyler, who would produce Fussell’s first album in 2015. The singer has subsequently released three additional albums for the Paradise of Bachelors imprint.
His most recent outing Good and Green Again was produced by guitarist James Elkington, a British native who has routinely demonstrated fresh perspective when it comes to finessing the sounds of American roots. Fussell embraces folk tradition by weaving together bits purloined from earlier songs of related tropes. If the opening lines of his song “Breast of Glass” sound familiar that’s because you’ve probably heard them sung on countless versions of “Handsome Molly,” including an interpretation by Bob Dylan. But in Fussell’s crafty imagination those iconic lines are merely a starting point for his songwriting. In fact, as Fussell sings of his love waiting for him as he travels the seas, he closes the song with a quotation from another folk tune, “The Blackest Crow.”
Fussell’s appropriations are a hallowed part of folk culture, but the arrangements that surround his easygoing songs and his appealingly laid-back delivery transport them into the present. As Stephen Duesner wrote of the record in Uncut, “The folks who wrote the songs that Fussell uses for raw material understood that humanity must die and buildings must crumble so that new generations and new monuments can take their place. And Fussell understands that he is engaging in a similar process by combining those songs in new ways and singing them in the 21st century, highlighting folk music’s potential as an endlessly renewable resource. For him a song is no older than the last time it was sung.”