Jake Xerxes Fussell, with his perfect picking and twang, brings an an almost academic air to his classic Americana. Primed for his career as a musician by his Folklorist father and his education at Ole Miss in Southern Studies, he brings an authenticity and soul to his tracks that often seem missing in the new era of genre bending. We asked Fussell to make us a playlist of tracks that helped inspire his newest record What in the Natural World, out 3/31. We knew it would be a list of tracks that gave us a new insight into the genre and that’s exactly what we got – an incredible and enlightening playlist that introduced us to new favorites and some exceptional deep cuts.
S. Whitt Denson – New Morning Sun
Whitt Denson was a Sacred Harp singer from Alabama. He recorded this one by overdubbing his own voice so that he could fugue in four-part harmony with himself. I first heard when I was a student at the University of Mississippi in a musicology class taught by Warren Steel, who’s one of the real Sacred Harp singing experts out there. When he was introducing the piece Dr. Steel said something like “Innovation and tradition need not be in diametric opposition.”
Los Principes del Mantaro – Noches Sicainas
Los Principes del Mantaro are a Huayno group from the Andean region of Peru. I found out about them by listening over and over again to the two-volume Huayno collection that’s on Arhoolie records. I’ve probably listen to those two CDs more than anything else in the past few years. I love how they use funny combinations of instruments – harps, saxophones, accordions, and harmonicas, all on one recording – and somehow it all makes perfect sense and sounds like it’s supposed to be there.
Dick Gaughan – Worker’s Song
I don’t know much about the Scottish singer and guitar player Dick Gaughan, but I recently picked up his 1981 LP Handful of Earth and it’s been difficult for me to stop thinking about it.
Stevie Wonder – Tree
So there was this book that came out in the early 70s called The Secret Life of Plants that was all about plants having emotions and how they experience fear and pain and joy, and how they’re capable of expressing affection and other emotional things in a number of ways. Of course, none of this was news, but the book was a big seller so it caused a stir. Then some people made a documentary based on some of the book’s findings, and Stevie Wonder created the soundtrack to go along with the movie. The critics gave him bad reviews but I think it’s one of the best things he’s ever done.
Latin Playboys – Forever Nightshade Mar
In case you don’t already know, The Latin Playboys are a side project of David Hidalgo and Louie Perez – two of the guys from Los Lobos. As I understand it, many of their songs were recorded on David Hidalgo’s 4-track cassette machine. Anyway, they haven’t recorded a ton of material, but what little they have is really understated and beautiful work.
Gordon Lightfoot – Race Among the Ruins
I’m a huge Gord fan and I always will be. This is one of my favorites of his.
Maggie & Terre Roche – Malachy’s
The Roches are one of my favorite groups, and I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Maggie Roche, so I’ve been listening to them a lot lately. Before their debut self-titled record came out and made them famous, the older two sisters, Maggie and Terre, recorded as a duo in Muscle Shoals. That album has so much weird mysterious beauty on it…I can’t get enough of it, and this song in particular, “Malachy’s,” really hits home with me.
Taj Mahal – Misty Morning Ride
A lot of people know Taj Mahal for his blues, and there’s plenty good reason for that, but I really love his records from the late 70s and early 80s where he seems to be participating in more of a Black Arts movement. I don’t know if he’d call it that or he’d even agree with the term, but it seems like he was making a real effort to draw more of a global cultural connection between his own work and this bigger Afro-Caribbean creative diaspora that he’s a part of. I think his parents were Garveyists so he was kind of looking at all that and situating himself musically, which to me is as interesting as his famous blues material, if not more.
Frank Harte – The Spanish Lady
Frank Harte was an architect by day and a singer by night. He’s my favorite of the great Irish balladeers. His first record on the Topic record label is pretty much unbeatable.
Jim Pepper / Everything is Everything – Witchi-Tai-To
Jim Pepper lived in the Pacific northwest and played saxophone and composed all kinds of interesting music and made some really great records, some of which are sort of hard to track down. I guess he was known as a jazz guy but he came from a Creek Indian background, and his music reflects that old southeastern stomp dance tradition in a big way. There are several versions of this song floating around out there, including one by Brewer & Shipley, which is fine, but this one is my favorite.