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).
Roger Brown, whose preternaturally vivid paintings grace Durham, North Carolina guitarist and singer Jake Xerxes Fussell’s second album What in the Natural World, is usually associated with the loose confederacy of artists known as the Chicago Imagists, but at heart he was fundamentally a Southern boy whose Alabama origins root his work. (He grew up in Opelika, about thirty miles northwest of Fussell’s childhood home in Columbus, Georgia, and counted Elvis Presley as a distant cousin.) Influenced both by comics and the folk and self-taught art he collected, Brown’s distinctive landscapes—which oscillate between architectural and natural, urban and bucolic, busy and barren, depicting the incursion of culture on our environment—are meticulously rendered in a stylized idiom of alien symmetries: recursive, patterned terrains as saturated with vibratory color as with psychological and political subtexts.
Both Brown and Fussell approach their art as a consequence of their practices as collectors and scholars of Southern vernacular culture—material culture and music, respectively—imbuing their own inventive work with the clarity and vigor of folk traditions, while reframing their durable, multivalent strangeness for our own times. Fussell has become a masterful interpreter and mutative performer of American folk and popular music, always allowing the songs he selects to breathe and swell with oceanic ambiguity, never closing them off to contemporary contexts and sonics. 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.