Try as one may, lumping in the North Carolinian musician Jake Xerxes Fussell in with the contemporary folk revival just won’t do. While bands like Mumford and Sons use folk as a veneer over what is undeniably a rockist songwriting mentality, Fussell is a deeply read student of the blues and American roots music, having studied at the Southern Studies department at the University of Mississippi. That experience is in addition to his years playing music and touring, as well as an appearance on A Prairie Home Companion. His philosophy and praxis is best summed up by this quotation, taken from the press release to his forthcoming self-titled LP: “Fussell recognizes that folk revivalist preciousness about spurious genre boundaries often feels absurdly at odds with the unruliness and restlessly inventive practices of tradition bearers-no revival or reenactment gear is necessary when the music lives and breathes and throws around hips and knees like these.”
Below you can stream “Raggy Levy”, the first track from Jake Xerxes Fussell to be released.
Ever the astute student, Fussell says this to PopMatters about the song: “Raggy Levy” is a song which a lot of people seem to like to hear me play, and it’s one I played on A Prairie Home Companion, of all places. I first heard it from a younger generation of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, Doug & Frankie Quimby, who sang with Bessie Jones. Bessie and Doug and Frankie were close friends of my parents. Doug died a few years ago… he was one the best singers I ever heard and he used to sing this all the time so it’s pretty special to me. Alan Lomax recorded the older generation of GA Sea Island singers (which included Bessie Jones) singing it in back in 1959.
“It’s a stevedore worksong from the Georgia coast. Years before Lomax recorded the piece it appeared in Lydia Parrish’s (ethnographer wife of the painter Maxfield Parrish) 1942 songbook Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands. I took some liberties by putting in the dramatic minor key chord changes but somehow they seem to work. The song kind of plays itself, in a way.”
Fussell also provides a bibliographic citation of the song’s origins: “Adapted from Doug & Frankie Quimby, Brunswick, Georgia / See: The Georgia Sea Island Singers’ version recorded by Alan Lomax, St Simons Island, Georgia, 1960 / ‘Ragged Levy’, transcribed by Lydia Parrish in Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands, 1942.”
Jake Xerxes Fussell is out on 27 January via Paradise of Bachelors.