Last Friday, the American Southeast-born vocalist and guitarist Jake Xerxes Fussell released his first solo album, Out of Sight, to blues and bluegrass lovers everywhere. Pulling from several eras of folk and blues music, the artist revives the best sounds of every generation.
The first song on the album, “The River of St. Johns,” is a smooth-talking, scale-walking tune about fishing in the titular river. The soft backing vocals by an unnamed female singer add a gentleness in contrast to Fussell’s firm voice, all blended together by the traditionally bluegrass, slow guitar lines.
In a rather piratelike manner, “Michael Was Hearty” pulls on old sea shanty styles, swinging back and forth much like the old drinking songs you might hear at your local Irish pub. Considering the use of the word “hearty” in the title, listeners can expect nothing less than a firm tune with a strong narrative.
If you thought it couldn’t get any more nautical, try out “Oh Captain.” This lounging song has a down-home feel with long instrumental sections evoking long days of shoveling coal as described by the lyrics. The fiddles featured in this song are bright and add pleasant dynamics to the rather mellow tune.
“Three Ravens” is one of the two purely instrumental tracks on Out of Sight. The song puts together many of the instrumental styles featured on the album, incorporating everything from commanding steel string licks to whistling fiddle lines. The instruments work in harmony, bringing a sense of peace over listeners that lyrics would interrupt.
While Fussell is originally from Georgia, the singer moved to Berkeley later in life to to learn the ropes of folk music from the Haight artists of the Bay Area. These Grateful Dead-esque musings can be heard throughout the album, as contemporary folk veins can be found in the instrumentals against more traditional folk lyrics.
The vocals on “Jubilee” are some of the harsher-sounding ones on the album — not because of content, but rather because of the striking, raspy bass of Fussell’s voice brushing against the lightness of the acoustic guitar. The song may not be harsh in meaning, but the sadness found in the “live and learn” aspects of loss, as the lyrics say, bring an emotional depth to the otherwise lighthearted album.
“The Rainbow Willow” is the longest song, clocking in at just over seven minutes. Because of the variation found in the instrumental sections, the minutes pass quickly as new sounds are introduced in the altogether slow-moving tune. However, this song still kind of lasts forever. If you’re into long folk ballads, though, this is the one for you.
Overall, older bluegrass legends mix with more modern indie folk influences on this album, as the soft instrumentals of some songs mirror the newer folk revival artists such as Hozier and the Lumineers. In the end, who said contemporary folk music was dead? (Not NPR, who featured Fussell’s new album in its New Music Friday playlist just last week.)
Traditional folk music may not be one of the most popular genres to gravitate toward in this decade, but if you’re willing to try something new and expand some horizons, give Out of Sight a spin for a quiet evening.