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Jake Xerxes Fussell - Good and Green Again Music Album Reviews

Jake Xerxes Fussell - Good and Green Again Music Album Reviews
The folk musician’s latest album is a bittersweet collection full of silence and space. Delivered with empathy, his historical subject matter feels rooted in the present.

The son of a renowned historian and writer who learned to play guitar from blues legend Precious Bryant, Jake Xerxes Fussell has been dirtying his hands in history his entire life. With his string of vivid folk albums over the past seven years, he has interpreted old songs with a sense of wonder. He’s gawked at peaches growing on a sweet potato vine and sold fish that just might have diamonds in their mouths, and his wide-eyed awe at such spectacles could make you believe they were real. Even his blues songs have a sense of play to them, a lightness of mood and rhythm that turns a song like “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues,” about harsh working conditions for spoolers and seamstresses, into something exuberant: Speaking out against exploitation became its own joyful reward, its own act of self-liberation. Because Fussell conveys such a sincere and convivial empathy toward his subjects, his music never comes across like homework.

His fourth album, Good and Green Again, gently upends that equation. Still inventive and imaginative, still grounded in his dexterous picking and robust vocals, it’s his most bittersweet album, with a melancholy lingering in each song, no matter its subject matter. Even “Frolic,” with its crisp Telecaster notes, thick brushstrokes of pedal steel, and choo-choo “vocables,” sounds forlorn, or at least caught up in some daydream; it’s less about running and skipping and more about our memories of childlike abandon, when we had no burdens upon our shoulders. Fussell thrives in this setting, not just because his voice carries such sadness gracefully but because he sounds like he’s responding to the present moment. As with previous albums, he roots these historical songs about marching soldiers, crumbling buildings, sinking ships, and parting lovers squarely in the present, which is no small feat.

Working with producer James Elkington, Fussell splits the folk band that backed him on 2019’s Out of Sight. Most of the musicians return, but rarely together. Drums are almost entirely absent, and most other instruments are flourishes rather than leads. The music, as a result, is somehow both sparser and richer: full of silence and space, but also alive to the ideas and memories that might fill them. Elkington, who also plays guitar and piano, highlights the subtle details in the arrangements, like the brushed snare that sounds like a strummed guitar on “In Florida” or the soft uillean pipes on the closer “Washington” (inspired, in a roundabout way, by the first president, not the 42nd state). “Rolling Mills Are Burning Down” pits Fussell’s gentle guitar picking against Elkington’s sympathetic piano, conveying no sense of emergency. Instead, the song is a eulogy for a world that is crumbling before his eyes, as though he’s watching forces at work that he cannot control or change. That sense of powerlessness only makes the song more painfully relatable.

Loss informs all of these songs, especially the centerpiece, “The Golden Willow Tree.” At nine minutes, it’s the longest song Fussell has ever recorded, an epic saga of seafaring espionage and brutal betrayal. Assembling his version from pieces of different songs associated with the Carter Family, the Child Ballads, and Georgia folklorist Paralee McCloud, Fussell recounts the story of a sailor striving to win his captain’s favor by scuttling an enemy ship, and he sings with a sense of resignation about the misdeeds men commit during wartime. The music drones and crests, as though sloshing against the bow, with Fussell repeating the chorus—“sink her in the low and lonesome water”—and changing it subtly each time. Even at nine minutes, it never tries your patience.

As the album title suggests, with every loss comes some hope of renewal. Mills may burn and boats may sink, but there’s always the chance that we might build something even better in their place. Such disasters become opportunities—a hard lesson in the midst of tragedy, but a comforting thought once the dust settles. Good and Green Again chronicles that cycle of death and rebirth, and Fussell savors the fresh perspective the past gives us on our present.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Jake Xerxes Fussell - Good and Green Again Music Album Reviews Jake Xerxes Fussell - Good and Green Again Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 Rating: 5

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