Album Review: Jake Xerxes Fussell, ‘When I’m Called’

It’s hard to get better credentials in the folk music world than having two folklorist parents who raised you deep in the Southern traditions of American music. This is the case with indie roots singer Jake Xerxes Fussell, now on tour around the US. With an upbringing in folk music, he’s always been able to pull out lovely, subtle versions of obscure folk songs, but with his new album, When I’m Called (out July 12 on Fat Possum Records), he’s paying homage also to the field recordings of his late mentor, Art Rosenbaum. A Georgia art professor (Fussell grew up in Georgia, too), Rosenbaum’s not as celebrated as his field recording peers like Alan Lomax, but he roamed nearly as far as Lomax and had a gentle touch with field recordings that brought out great performances.

Since he was never a professional folklorist, Rosenbaum’s ear roved towards a more artistic world instead, something which gives his field recordings a different feel. Venerable record label Dust to Digital has compiled many of Rosenbaum’s recordings if folks are interested, and Fussell draws as well from a Folkways album of Georgia field recordings that Rosenbaum did.

The soft and gentle “Feeing Day,” for example, comes from Rosenbaum’s Scotland field recordings; Fussell makes it his own, stripping any background from the drinking song it originally came from. The old sea shanty, “Gone to Hilo,” is another highlight, as is “Who Killed Poor Robin?” from Rosenbaum’s recording of Ozarks’ folk singer Ollie Gilbert.

Joined by fellow outsider folk singers Joan Shelley and Robin Holcomb, Fussell certainly fits into a wave of indie folk that has taken old songs out of their lands of origin, and placed them in elementally raw, quiet settings, making them just right for new audiences to love; Sam Amidon is a musician doing this, too. What’s impressive is that both Fussell and Amidon love and KNOW the roots of the music they’re sharing; their interpretations become celebrations of the musical past.

You might describe When I’m Called as an ode to the lost traditions of the South, focusing especially on Fussell’s home state of Georgia. You might also call When I’m Called an album that’s representing the age-old act of passing songs and stories along to new generations. Like the old field recorders who went out a-huntin’ for the songs in the first place, Fussell is fueled by the sense of mystery these songs often bring; he certainly does his due diligence delving into the mysteries of the lyrics and trying to figure out what’s really going on.


 When I’m Called is available HERE


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