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Jake Xerxes Fussell

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Over the last decade, North Carolina’s Jake Xerxes Fussell has established himself as a devoted listener and contemplative interpreter of a vast array of lovingly sourced folk songs. On his fifth album, When I’m Called—his first LP for Fat Possum—Fussell returns to a well of music that holds lifelong sentimental meaning, contemplating the passage of time and the procession of life’s unexpected offerings.

Recognized for his compelling transliterations of traditional music, Fussell took an atypical approach to the material on When I’m Called, often constructing the music from the ground up, before considering what existing source material could be applied to the song. The core of the title track to When I’m Called is a passage that tumbled into Fussell’s life, picked up from a roadside scrap of paper that seemed to bear a child’s penitent writings. He borrowed his album’s sprightly opener, “Andy” from the eclectic multimedia artist Maestro Gaxiola, who penned it in the mid-1980s as an ode to his quixotic pseudo-rivalry with the pop-art icon Andy Warhol. He jumps next into “Cuckoo!”, a strings-swept update of a composition credited to the English composer Benjamin Britten and Jane Taylor, author of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.” The remainder of When I’m Called, like so many of Fussell’s favorite numbers, have extensive and winding traditional pedigrees.

James Elkington returned to the producer’s chair, offering guidance on arrangements after working with Fussell on 2022’s Good and Green Again. As Elkington helped flesh out the recordings with piano, pedal steel, dobro, more guitar, and light synth touches, Fussell again found himself ingratiated to Elkington’s eclectic and finely attuned sensibilities. “He's very open to a lot of weird ideas,” Fussell explains. “I feel like the conversations with him can be really free and open.”

With friends like Blake Mills, Joan Shelley, Robin Holcomb, and James Elkington lending their talents to the LP, Fussell’s latest archival dive expands upon his unassuming style, anchored by his friendly warble and even-tempered guitar. When I’m Called is Fussell’s richest work to date, and with a slate of warm instrumental textures abetting his glowing guitar, Fussell follows a growing artistic edge as he pursues broad questions of belonging.

Though his affection for ballads spans mountainous Appalachian tunes to sea shanties and everything in between, Fussell has found himself particularly close to field recordings made in the 1960s and ’70s by painter, musician, and folklorist Art Rosenbaum—one of Fussell’s beloved late mentors, who died in September 2022. He sources “Feeing Day,” which gets a brassy halo, to one of Rosenbaum’s 1971 captures in Scotland.

The lightly rolling “Leaving Here, Don’t Know Where I’m Going” and its unwitting companion, “Going to Georgia,” are part of Fussell’s multidisciplinary inheritance from Rosenbaum; threaded together with the gentle ripple of “Gone to Hilo,” the LP finds its thematic backbone in its trio of traveling songs. Rosenbaum’s field recordings of “Who Killed Poor Robin?” and “One Morning in May” were among the numerous versions that informed Fussell’s contemporary takes. In tandem with his relationship to Rosenbaum, Fussell traces his love of post-war field recordings to his upbringing in Georgia by song-collecting folklorist parents, whose enthusiasm for their itinerant work surrounded their son in many different musics for as long as he can remember.

That early-life intensive had a profound impact on Fussell’s sense of time around music that, too often, gets treated as a museum piece. “When I was getting really deep into traditional music as a teenager, I tended to see it more in a continuum, like, ‘This is all tied into an ongoing world,’” he says. In the ringing warmth of When I’m Called, Fussell honors traditions while carrying them into a new generation’s field of vision, deepening his own understanding of his part in the “ongoing world.” He’s charted his own terrain of growth and change without any hurry toward a destination, and in his guitar-guided meditations, Fussell plucks at the threads that keep humanity knotted together.

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When I'm Called
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When I'm Called
Jake Xerxes Fussell
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Jake Xerxes Fussell
What In The Natural World
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What In The Natural World
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