25 September 2022

Approaches to older music (update)

The BIB editor writes:

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released on Friday (23 Sept.) The new faith (SFW40247), the latest album from Jake Blount, whose website states that it 'answers the question, “What would black music sound like after climate change renders most of the world uninhabitable? What gods would this community praise, and what stories would they tell?”'. The album presents, as the music of this dark future, 'spirituals that are age-old even now' and 'songs, which have seen black Americans through countless struggles' - in other words, music which already has a proven record of sustaining in adversity, and which is given new treatments here.

Jake Blount is the September Spotlight artist of No Depression, and the magazine's coverage of him includes Jim Shahen's interview article 'Jake Blount takes folk into the future', with two videos; and Stacy Chandler's 'The intersection of past, present, and future on Jake Blount’s "The new faith"’, introducing a seven-minute video (also on YouTube) in which Blount explains the concept of the album and sings, with fiddle, 'Tangle Eye blues'. This derives from the unaccompanied singing of Walter 'Tangle Eye' Jackson, recorded by Alan Lomax in the Mississippi state penitentiary in 1947, which can be heard on YouTube; for instance, here.

Update 30 Sept.: An interview with Jake Blount published in The Guardian on 27 Sept. can be read here.
Another approach to older music is taken by Squirrel Butter (also on Facebook), the husband-and-wife duo of Charlie Beck and Charmaine Slaven. Their fifth album, Hazelnut, came out in July this year, when a brief interview with them appeared on the Bluegrass Situation in its 'BGS 5+5' series. The album has since been reviewed, with samples of all eighteen tracks, by Braeden Paul on Bluegrass Today.

Like Jake Blount with the sources on which he draws, Squirrel Butter have merged themselves with old-time, early bluegrass, and early country to the point where their original tunes and songs come from the same place. Or the same place in a parallel universe? I'm thinking of Charlie Beck's banjo playing. In addition to clawhammer, he plays three-finger style with an unrestrained, fluent, and imaginative mastery that doesn't sound like newgrass playing. Instead, we're perhaps hearing how country players might have sounded in the 1930s, if they'd chosen to develop a technique comparable to what 'classical' 5-string players had at that time.

© Richard Hawkins

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