Last year, Tui was celebrated as one of PopMatters’ Best Folk Albums of 2019. Their album, Pretty Little Mister, was lauded for showcasing their takes on multiple folk songs written by African-American artists and presented in a traditional Black string band style. Now, one half of Tui, Jake Blount, is set to release a solo effort that once again highlights the often forgotten—or otherwise whitewashed—history of folk, country, and bluegrass music. Releasing on 29 May via Free Dirt, Spider Tales features the consummate banjoist, fiddler, and vocalist using his craft to resurrect Black and Indigenous perspectives in traditional roots music. The album title itself is a callback to Anansi, the great trickster, in Akan mythology.
Full of raw grit, the jaunty “Boll Weevil” is one such tune that Blount has chosen to interpret for Spider Tales. An old roots song from the early 1900s that reflects on the devastation wrought onto the cotton industry by the titular bug, it has more recently been popularized by artists like Old Crow Medicine Show and the Punch Brothers. Blount digs deep into the song to present it in an unvarnished form, informed by both its history and some modernity to develop his cover.
Blount tells PopMatters, “This song is a classic in the blues, bluegrass and old-time genres. I loosely learned it from a recording of the old-time fiddler Tommy Jarrell, but it was widely sung and performed throughout the 1900s; the story goes that Jarrell himself learned the song from a Black woman backstage at a festival. This arrangement of the song came out of some need on my part to reconcile the more traditional renditions that I love with the Ithaca sound that shaped my musicianship. Old as the song is, those younger influences are on full display when I perform this piece.”