Jake Xerxes Fussell

What in the Natural World

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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. On his second outing, What in the Natural World, Fussell again mines the front half the of last century, unearthing a slightly shadier collection of deep cuts whose sources range from Colorado River lore ("Canyoneers") to Virginia mining tales ("Pinnacle Mountain Silver Mine") to the traditional English balladry compiled by American folklorist Francis James Child ("Lowe Bonnie"). More sparsely arranged than his debut, the songs of What in the Natural World often take on a moodier cast, though with Fussell's hearty voice and affable picking style, there is still a spirit of friendly mirth in his delivery. Employing only guitar and piano on "Jump for Joy," a lesser-known Duke Ellington cut, Fussell makes a rare foray into the mid-century jazz vernacular, singing "have you seen pastures groovy, green pastures was just a technicolor movie." A nimble opening volley, it sets up what is probably the album's best track, the peculiar yet beguiling "Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing on a Sweet Potato Vine?" which lazes along for a welcome six minutes. The lonesome depression-era "Furniture Man" is another highlight, featuring some eerie steel guitar work by fellow Durham resident Nathan Golub. The undeniably Southern and word-stuffed "Billy Button" manages to sound both bittersweet and absurd, and this contradictory tone can really be applied to the whole set. Overall a more unsettling collection than his debut, Fussell still offers a unique experience and applies his distinctive take on Southern American music that is like no one else's.

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