Jake Blount: Spider Tales review I Jude Rogers's folk album of the month

(Free Dirt Records)
This debut album uses limber banjo and fiddle to delve into subversive stories of violence and survival

Jake Blount is a brilliant banjoist, fiddle player and singer based in Rhode Island in the US, his fingering thrilling and pacy, his voice charismatic and limber. His debut album arrives with a clear objective running through Blount’s choices of songs: to unknot the gnarly roots of where they come from, and the emotional stories they tell.

Jake Blount: Spider Tales album art work
Jake Blount: Spider Tales album art work Photograph: PR Handout

This mission is driven by Blount’s research into music that was wrenched from America’s black and indigenous cultures. He is also a LGBTQ activist, committed to putting queer identities back into these narratives (his band is also comprised of mostly queer musicians). Spider Tales’ title refers to a west African folkloric figure, Anansi, a rebellious spirit that has persisted in its people, despite its oppressors’ attempts to smother it.

With this in mind, Blount’s delivery sounds fittingly glorious, celebratory and contemporary. An instrumental from Mississippi banjoist Lucius Smith, Goodbye, Honey, You Call That Gone, kicks things off, the feet of Nic Gareiss providing percussion that sounds, perversely, ripe for sampling on a rap record. Move, Daniel has a similarly delicious rhythmic drive, which suits the theme of a song originally sung by the Gullah Geechee people of the southern east coast (they used it to encourage one of their group to steal meat from their enslavers).

Starker themes also emerge. On a languorous cover of Violet Mills’ vaudevillian Mad Mama’s Blues, blood is “running down the streets”. On the gorgeous, little-known The Angels Done Bowed Down, the sight of a hanging Jesus suggests other lynchings. Blount also covers Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night with an arresting new power, twisting the gender of its subject, and making it a song about homelessness. Direct, accessible and thought-provoking throughout, fans of Americana, Gillian Welch, the blues and alternative music will also find inspiration here. Spider Tales is an instant classic.

Also out this month

Will Pound’s A Day Will Come (Lulubug) is an uplifting celebration of the fruits of the free movement of European instrumental music, by the British harmonica player. Swedish polska, Bulgarian rachenitsa and Irish jigs never let up the pace. Soundtrack composer Roly Witherow mixes up art-rock, atmospherics and folk on his personal project, Ballads and Yarns (self-released), a rousing half-hour of music given extra warmth thanks to his old-fashioned vocals. Also seek out the Eighteenth Day of May’s The Highest Tree (Cardinal Fuzz), an overdue reissue by the fantastic mid-noughties British folk-rock quartet, led by Allison Brice. They should have been huge.

• This article was amended on 25 May 2020. The Gullah Geechee people lived in states along the southern east coast of the US. They did not also live in Louisiana as stated in an earlier version.


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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