On his solo debut, Jake Xerxes Fussell sounds like an explorer. He was the son of a folklorist who documented vernacular culture in the Southeast. He’s worked with bluesmen and played in country bands. He was a student in the Southern Studies program at Ole Miss. He recorded with Rev. John Wilkins, and now he’s made this record, produced by guitarist William Tyler and engineered by Mark Nevers. All that travel lends the looseness and curiosity of a wanderer to the folk and blues numbers Fussell makes his own on this record.
“Let Me Lose” embraces the freedom in the down and out, and you can feel that freedom, that shrugging off of burdens we don’t need, in the rolling guitar work and shuffling percussion. “Star Girl”, with melting pedal steel and Fussell’s clear, soft-spoken singing, is pastoral, bittersweet, and lonesome in the best way possible. It contrasts nicely with the stomping, dusty “Raggy Levy” or the shadowy atmosphere of “Boat’s Up the River”.
The album rolls through folk and blues traditions but pushes them to fresh new horizons. There’s something almost scholarly at the heart of Fussell’s approach. There’s an in-the-blood knowledge of these traditions at play, but with Tyler and others following along, it’s always Fussell’s sense of discovery, the looseness of wandering, that wins out. Even with all the history built into these songs and this record, Fussell still emerges as a fresh and vital new voice, as a singer, a musician, and a torchbearer for every true sound he’s come across to now.