by dave heaton
That Jake Xerxes Fussell plays folk music is a biographical fact. Other the other hand, thinking of his music strictly as “folk music”, in genre terms, might cover up the versatility and transformative power of it. The son of a folklorist, he grew up steeped in the music history of the South. His music is built on respect for tradition while evolving his own welcoming take on it.
There’s beauty and a sense of uncertainty, a strange air, in his songs. That feeling is pronounced and visceral on Good and Green Again, from the title on down to the arrangements, with additional instruments and voices honed towards cultivating an atmosphere that is affecting yet never simple. His singing – never too shackled to the songforms themselves – feels more open and delicate this time around.
The songs themselves are slippery – like history and memory and place and time. A song might seem to tell a story, about a ship for example, or lovers distanced by the sea, or George Washington. But the words as sung and played by Fussell and his collaborators are elliptical, resonant but not fixed with one meaning.
Specific images linger in my mind each time I listen to the album. The title image in “Breast of Glass”, the final narrative turn, is one: a man with a breast of glass where his pined-for lover could see her name written on his heart. On the opener “Love Farewell”, I can’t get over the roaming lover, possible solder’s strange description of collective wandering – “we’re all marching around very well”.
Then there’s the 9-minute song about a ship that called “The Golden Willow Tree”, with the repeated descriptive of “the low and lonesome water … the lonesome sea”.
That song’s sense of melancholy permeates the whole album. It’s a restorative type of melancholy, with a sense of natural progression. Like in that album title, we’re left feeling good and green, perhaps, though not settled.