Personnel: Jake Xerxes Fussell (vocals, guitar); Chris Scruggs (steel guitar, mandolin); Hoot Hester (fiddle); Brian Kotzur (drums).
Audio Mixer: Mark Nevers.
Recording information: Beech House, Nashville, Tennessee; Dial Back Sound, Water Valley, Mississippi.
Photographer: Fred C. Fussell.
Arranger: Jake Xerxes Fussell.
North Carolinian blues folksinger and guitarist Jake Xerxes Fussell grew up in a household steeped in the heritage and culture of the American South. The son of a noted Georgian folklorist, Fussell's youth was spent riding around with his dad while he documented old bluesmen, string bands, and Native American artists. It's the kind of real deal Americana education that thousands of aspiring Harry Smith scholars would kill for and, to his credit, he made the best of it, apprenticing with regional blues legend Precious Bryant, traveling the country learning songs by ear, and using his connections. Surprisingly, one of the best things about Fussell's self-titled debut is how loosely he adheres to notions of what is or what is not "authentic." The material comes from the great rural blues and folk traditions of the South, but his interpretations are relaxed, unfussy, and full of his own unique personality. Produced by experimental guitarist William Tyler and aided by a motley crew of Nashville vets, Fussell rolls through an often obscure yet timeless set of early blues and folk tunes with an understated grace and easy charm. Alternating between electric and acoustic guitar, his fingerpicking style is full of nuances and his warm voice resembles a slightly more ragged Paul Burch. There's a distinct rock edge to cuts like "Let Me Lose" and "Pork and Beans," with their full rhythm sections, double-tracked vocals, and organ parts. Other standouts like the lovely "Star Girl" mix old-time beauty with drifting pedal steel and atmospheric guitar effects. He's not afraid to mess with the formula a bit, but neither is he showy. The way everything hangs together so seamlessly suggests a poise beyond his years. This is the kind of subtle record unlikely to make immediate waves, but with a staying power that will call for repeated listens. ~ Timothy Monger