Jake Xerxes Fussell translates American blues and old-time music for contemporary ears | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Jake Xerxes Fussell translates American blues and old-time music for contemporary ears

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Singer-guitarist Jake Xerxes Fussell grew up in Durham, North Carolina, surrounded by American folklore, raised by a father, Fred Fussell, who often took him on expeditions to document the rural blues and old-time music of the south and hang with fellow sonic archivists like George Mitchell and Art Rosenbaum. The experience made an indelible impression on Jake, who as a kid began studying and playing the music his father exposed him to. He interpreted the Piedmont blues of North Carolina, hung out in Berkeley with documentary filmmaker Les Blank, and toured with bluesman Robert Wilkins (from whom the Rolling Stones swiped “Prodigal Son”). It was actually on the Wilkins tour that Fussell met guitarist William Tyler, who would go on to produce the singer’s superb 2015 eponymous debut for Paradise of Bachelors. Fussell freely adapts early American roots music, both black and white, teasing out new melodic subtleties and overseeing small-band arrangements that bring a crystalline folk-rock glow to decades-old songs. His recent follow-up, What in the Natural World, is even better. On it he brings an avuncular chill to lyrics once sung by Ivie Anderson on the Duke Ellington gem “Jump for Joy,” and also adds a rambling, contemporary vibe to the Bill Chitwood and Bud Landress obscurity “Furniture Man,” showing that a 1925 tune about repossession is still relevent today. Fussell gets crack support from a lean Nashville combo that includes guitarist Nathan Salsburg, who ornaments the songs with a wonderfully light, airy touch that never impinges on Fussell’s charming Paul Burch-like delivery.   v

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