Jake Xerxes Fussell’s Good and Green Again

cover art for Good and Green AgainNew music from Jake Xerxes Fussell is always cause for celebration, and this one is very special. Good and Green Again is his fourth release and in some ways represents a bit of a departure. On his two previous albums What in the Natural World and Out of Sight – which he self-produced after friend William Tyler produced his self-titled 2015 debut – he played mostly a chiming, chunking Telecaster as accompaniment on his re-imagined American folk songs. This time around he plays most of the nine tracks on an acoustic guitar, which gives it a warmer sound and a more intimate vibe. In addition to his regular bandmates Casey Toll on double bass, Libby Rodenbough on strings, and Nathan Golub on pedal steel, he’s joined by Joe Westerlund on drums, Joseph Decosimo on fiddle, and Anna Jacobson on brass, all from the Durham, North Carolina area where Fussell lives. Plus freak folk avatar Bonnie “Prince” Billy (aka Will Oldham), chimes in with some backing vocals.

Did I say brass? Indeed. Jacobson’s horn charts on several of these tracks are lovely: basic, unfussy but richly harmonic, they add a stateliness and heft to the songs, particularly the first three. These three are among the best album openers on an Americana album that’s come my way in a long time. First up is the superb “Love Farewell,” a song of naïve cheer as one half of a couple marches off to war, the low brass chorus emphasizing the mournful likely end to this tale. Track 2 “Carriebell” is a cryptic love song, the protagonist begging his lover not to mourn, because he’s sworn not to get drunk any more – I’m a sucker for this kind of languid 6/8 rhythm. Fussell’s fingerpicking is at its percussive best on “Breast Of Glass,” a seaman’s song of longing for the one left behind, with a bit of a Caribbean lilt to it.

Fussell’s main thing is the finding of folk songs usually old and obscure, and resetting them to fit his deep, easy, mellow Carolina drawl. This time out, though, he’s contributed four of these nine tracks himself. The three instrumental tunes – “Frolic,” “What Did The Hen Say To The Drake,” and “In Florida,” all have their own unique individual characters. And one of the best characters on this album full of them is on the closing track, Fussell’s own “Washington.” It’s a minimalist portrait of the first President of the United States, inspired by a hooked rug by an anonymous Virginia artisan. The rug appears in a book, Hooked Rugs: An American Folk Art, by Leslie Linsley, and it guilelessly and without perspective portrays just what Fussell sings, after a quiet introduction on Telecaster and Elkington’s parlor piano: “General Washington/Noblest of men/His house, his horse, his cherry tree, and him.”

The album packaging contains lyrics and source notes on these amazing songs, and you can find Fussell on his website, on Bandcamp and Facebook.

Jake played at one of the last live shows I saw pre-pandemic, opening for Daniel Norgren in the fall of 2019. Although I’m crossing my fingers, I doubt that I’ll be able to see him perform on the current tour, but hope to hear him sing some of these special songs next time he comes my way. In the meantime, this will be one of my go-to albums to help me get through what looks to be a third year of sheltering at home.

(Paradise of Bachelors, 2022)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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