What in the Natural World
Entrancing guitarist and singer Jake Xerxes Fussell follows his celebrated self-titled debut (produced by William Tyler) with a moving new album of Natural Questions in the form of transmogrified folk/blues koans. This time these radiant ancient tunes tone several shades darker while amplifying their absurdist humor, illuminating our national, and psychic, predicaments. Featuring art by iconic painter Roger Brown and contributions from three notable Nathans - Nathan Bowles (Steve Gunn), Nathan Salsburg (Alan Lomax Archive), and Nathan Golub (Mountain Goats) - as well as Joan Shelley and Casey Toll (Mt. Moriah). It’s the result of a lifetime dedicated to apprenticeships with master storytellers, from Piedmont blueswomen Precious Bryant and Etta Baker to documentary artists Les Blank and Art Rosenbaum. So if What in the Natural World feels both several shades darker, and unsettlingly funnier, than Jake’s self-titled 2015 debut, you need only look around at our national predicament in 2017 for clues. Since then Jake has played around the country, opening for Wilco, dueting with Tyler, and touring with Mt. Moriah, Nathan Bowles, and Daniel Bachman … and the territory he’s traversed, for many of our fellow citizens, doesn’t brook much hope. Unlike his debut, the majority of these songs are not nominally traditional; they don’t hail from what Jake calls “the weird void of folk anonymity and the dark, fertile past.” Five of nine are attributed to specific artists, both canonical (Duke Ellington) and obscure (Helen Cockram), and all are recast in vibrant, assured recordings that elide genres and dissolve the false binaries of tradition and innovation, folk and modern, old and new.