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LIVE: Jake Xerxes Fussell – The Fulford Arms, York, 09/05/2022

“Folk music came from the internet”, Jake Xerxes Fussell informs us tonight. “That’s what I tell the young folk”, he adds with a cheerful glint in his eye. At 40 years of age the singer and guitarist from Durham in North Carolina is hardly Methuselah. And in making these assertions he is being just as gently ironic as he is self-effacing for here before us is a man who is a most learned scholar of American folklore, a serious collector of long-since-forgotten traditional tunes.

Across two perfectly weighted sets this evening, Jake Xerxes Fussell plays a dozen such songs in what is a consistently captivating and often quite exceptional performance. Having previously trawled through archive upon archive of traditional folk material he had handpicked a range of songs that he felt held just as much relevance to what is happening in the world today as they did back then. To use his own description, Fussell “appropriated” these songs, often reconfiguring their structure and infusing them with a more contemporary nuance. The end results, which can be found in his four studio albums, are a revelation.

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Were it not for his new white sneakers, in his Eno River cap – sporting the name of the tributary that flows through his home town – and blue overall jacket Jake Xerxes Fussell could easily present as a character from a bygone age, a brakeman, perhaps, from the railway as it crosses the Southeastern states of America. And it is into the past that he immediately goes tonight, opening with Duke Ellington’s ‘Jump For Joy’. A song that fought for racial equality with a brighter vision for a more democratic future, these noble sentiments still hold true today.

As the set unfolds and Jake Xerxes Fussell visits various stages in his recording career – during the first half alone he stops off at his 2015 self-titled debut album on no less than three occasions; ‘Push Boat’, ‘Pork & Beans’, and ‘Raggy Levy’, a song dating all the way back to 1942 and the Georgia Sea Island Singers – his connection to the past and compassion for the people about whom he sings is palpable.

Jake Xerxes Fussell takes us down a number of olden pathways, honouring those times with a deep respect and reverence whilst relocating them into the present as he sings with passion and conviction about issues and concerns such as exploitation and oppression that sadly still impact upon us today.

Jake Xerxes Fussell has previously spoken of feeling some regret about recording Helen Cockram’s ‘Pinnacle Mountain Silver Mine’, such is the peerless impact of the original, but his transformation of the song here is truly wonderful, the power of the words magnified by the clarity of his intricate finger-picking on the Stratocaster. He signs off with perhaps the greatest highlight of the night – and, my word, there have been so many – ‘ Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing on a Sweet Potato Vine?’, where the clarity of his voice and the purity of his playing combine to elevate the music to some higher level of transcendence.

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from this show are HERE

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.