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Opener: Jake Xerxes Fussell
Oct 29 , 2019 • Stage Door Theater
Joan Shelley is a songwriter and singer who lives near Louisville, Ky., not far from where she grew up. She draws inspiration from traditional and traditionally-minded performers from her native Kentucky, as well as those from Ireland, Scotland, and England, but she’s not a folksinger. Her disposition aligns more closely with that of, say, Roger Miller, Dolly Parton, or her fellow Kentuckian Tom T. Hall, who once explained—simply, succinctly, in a song—“I Witness Life.”
She’s not so much a confessional songwriter, and she sings less of her life and more of her place: of landscapes and watercourses; of flora and fauna; of seasons changing and years departing and the ineluctable attempt of humans to make some small sense of all—or, at best, some—of it. Her perspective and performances both have been described, apparently positively, as “pure,” but there’s no trace of the Pollyanna and there’s little of the pastoral, either: her work instead wrestles with the possibility of reconciling, if only for a moment, the perceived “natural” world with its reflection—sometimes, relatively speaking, clear; other times hopelessly distorted—in the human heart, mind, and footprint.
Since the 2015 release of her album Over and Even, Shelley has crossed the country and toured Europe several times as a headlining artist, typically with guitarist Nathan Salsburg, and sharing shows with the likes of Jake Xerxes Fussell, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Doug Paisley, Daniel Martin Moore, The Other Years, and Michael Hurley. She has opened for Wilco, Chris Smither, Patty Griffin, Andrew Bird and Richard Thompson. Jeff Tweedy produced her previous record at The Loft in Chicago. She’ll be familiar to readers of guitar-centric magazines for having appeared, in the same month, on the covers of Fretboard Journal and Acoustic Guitar.
Opener: Jake Xerxes Fussell
singer and guitarist (yes, that’s his real middle name, after Georgia potter ) grew up in , son of , a folklorist, curator, and photographer who hails from across the river in (once known as “The Wickedest City in America” for its rampant vice, corruption, and crime.) Fred’s fieldwork took him, often with young Jake in tow, across the Southeast documenting traditional vernacular culture, which included recording blues and old-time musicians with fellow folklorists and recordists and (which led Jake to music) and collaborating with American Indian artists (which led Jake eventually to his graduate research on Choctaw fiddlers.)
As a teenager Jake began playing and studying with elder musicians in the Chattahoochee Valley, apprenticing with Piedmont blues legend , with whom he toured and recorded, and riding wild with Alabama bluesman, black rodeo rider, rye whiskey distiller, and master dowser . He joined a Phenix City country band who were students of of ; he accompanied in North Carolina; he moved to Berkeley, where he hung with genius documentary filmmaker and learned from Haight folkies like ( , , ) and cult fingerstyle guitarist ; he appeared on . He did a whole lot of listening, gradually honing his prodigious guitar skills, singing, and repertoire. In 2005 he moved to , where he enrolled in the Southern Studies department at , recorded and toured with , and in 2014, began recording his first solo album.
Jake’s 2015 self-titled debut record, produced by and featuring , transmutes ten arcane folk and blues tunes into vibey cosmic laments and crooked riverine rambles. Collaborating with Tyler and engineer in was a conscious decision to depart cloistered trad scenes and sonics for broader, more oblique horizons. Tyler, a guitar virtuoso known for his own compositions that untether and reframe traditional six-string forms and techniques, helmed the push boat in inimitable fashion, enlisting crack(ed) Nashville session vets (lap steel, bass, mandolin: , ), (drums: ), and (fiddle; , ) to crew.
In 2017 Fussell followed his celebrated self-titled debut 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. features art by iconic painter and contributions from three notable Nathans— ( ), ( ), and ( )—as well as and ( ).
On , his third and most finely wrought album yet, guitarist, singer, and master interpreter Fussell is joined for the first time by a full band featuring (drums), (bass), (pedal steel), (violin, vocals), and (piano, organ). An utterly transporting selection of traditional narrative folksongs addressing the troubles and delights of love, work, and wine (i.e., the things that matter), collected from a myriad of obscure sources and deftly metamorphosed, contains, among other moving curiosities, a fishmonger’s cry that sounds like an astral lament (“ ”); a cotton mill tune that humorously explores the unknown terrain of death and memory (“ ”); and a fishermen’s shanty/gospel song equally concerned with terrestrial boozing and heavenly transcendence (“ ”).
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