Jake Xerxes Fussell brings songs from the south to the Old Town School

Jake Xerxes Fussell deftly balances the imperatives of research and performance. A second-generation folklorist raised in Columbus, Georgia, he draws much of his material from field recordings made throughout the American south. His four albums, all released by North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors, scrupulously credit the folk-song collections from which he sources his material. However, if you compare the versions of those tunes that appear on those old LPs with Fussell’s recordings, his artistry quickly comes into focus. His first fidelity is to the stories the songs tell—he enunciates so clearly that you won’t need a lyric sheet to catch every word—and he’s not shy about streamlining them to get at their essence. He pares down “Rolling Mills Are Burning Down,” for example, to a single verse and chorus that vividly portray the personal tragedy that follows the economic collapse of a factory town. Fussell’s arrangements pull the songs out of time. The sparse, gorgeous orchestration on his latest record, Good and Green Again (produced by local multi-instrumentalist James Elkington), feels neither antique nor contemporary, but it perfectly frames Fussell’s rich voice and sturdy, reverberant guitar playing. In concert, Fussell’s singing and picking are quite complete unto themselves; he and Elkington will both be performing solo tonight.

Jake Xerxes Fussell James Elkington opens. Sat 12/10, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, Szold Hall, 4545 N. Lincoln, $24 general public, $22 for members, all ages

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