Jake Xerxes Fussell w/ Mike Polizze (Birds of Maya)

Tuesday, January 25, 2022 - 7:30pm

Venue: 
PhilaMOCA
Age: 
All Ages

JAKE XERXES FUSSELL
Singer, guitarist, and folk music interpreter Jake Xerxes Fussell has distinguished himself as one of his generation’s preeminent interpreters of traditional (and not so traditional) “folk” songs, a practice which he approaches with a refreshingly unfussy lack of nostalgia. By recontextualizing ancient vernacular songs and sources of the American South, he allows them to breathe and speak for themselves and for himself; he alternately inhabits them and allows them to inhabit him. In all his work, Fussell humanizes his material with his own profound curatorial and interpretive gifts, unmooring stories and melodies from their specific eras and origins and setting them adrift in our own waterways. The robust burr of his voice, which periodically melts and catches at a particularly tender turn of phrase, and the swung rhythmic undertow of exquisite, seemingly effortless guitar-playing pull new valences of meaning from ostensibly antique songs and subjects.
Fussell’s new album Good and Green Again is set for release on Jan 21, 2022 via Paradise of Bachelors. Produced by James Elkington, Good and Green Again navigates fresh sonic and compositional landscapes and is his most conceptually focused and breathtakingly rendered to-date. Fussell and Elkington enlisted a group of formidable players hailing from Durham, North Carolina (where Fussell lives) and elsewhere, including regular bandmembers Casey Toll on upright bass, Libby Rodenbough on strings, and Nathan Golub on pedal steel. They were joined by welcome newcomers Joe Westerlund (Megafaun, Califone) on drums, Joseph Decosimo on fiddle, Anna Jacobson on brass, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, who contributes additional vocals.
If overall Good and Green Again sounds a little sadder and slower than Fussell’s past records, well, maybe we’re all a little sadder and slower these days. A smoldering mood of regret and loss pervades, a distinct vibe of vanitas. But three airy instrumentals, all Fussell originals, punctuate the program, offering respite and light in the form of crisp, shuffling play-party tunes, each in turn somewhat more hopeful and exuberant than the last. Their resemblance to lullabies is, perhaps, not coincidental. Fussell and his partner welcomed their first child into the world during the making of Good and Green Again. These lovely songs bear that promise in letters of bright gold.
MIKE POLIZZE
Tourists beware: if you wander around Old City Philadelphia—the thoroughly sanitized home of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, all manner of Ye Olde Hoagie Shoppes, and the “non-partisan” historical theme park abomination known as the National Constitution Center—you’re liable to be accosted by one of many ersatz Ben Franklins shucking and jiving for your Yankee dollars. The Disneyfied colonial cosplay can make you forget the fact that the real Ben was, in his time, a true-blue Philly freak, who alongside all the radical politicking, pamphleteering, and scientific tinkering, found time to write raunchy letters and something called The Drinker’s Dictionary. He not only invented bifocals, swim fins, and the lightning rod, but also a musical instrument called the armonica—or better yet, the “glassychord.”
The story of Long Lost Solace Find, the debut solo album by Mike Polizze, is a Philadelphia story. It’s also a story about the erstwhile Purling Hiss frontman and Birds of Maya shredder stepping out from behind the wall of guitar noise into the bright sunshine to inhabit the dazzling realm of glassychords. Performed entirely by Polizze (largely live and acoustic), with notable instrumental and vocal contributions from longtime friend Kurt Vile, and recorded (slowly, over the course of a year) by War on Drugs engineer Jeff Zeigler, this intimate Philly affair clarifies the bittersweet earworm melodicism of Polizze’s songwriting, revealing bona fide folk-pop chops. Long Lost Solace Find finally harvests the wild local honey from the buzzing hive of Hiss.
Mike moved from nearby Media, Pennsylvania to Fishtown, Philadelphia in 2004, cofounding Birds of Maya with Jason Killinger (later of Spacin’) and Ben Leaphart (later also of Purling Hiss, Watery Love, et al.) and subsequently falling in with a nascent scene that included the War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, Espers, and the future Founding Fathers of Paradise of Bachelors. In the early years of the new millennium, Philadelphia, and particularly the affordable neighborhoods north of Northern Liberties that attracted artists and musicians, could be a brutal and sinister place, with acres of abandoned and blighted post-industrial blocks ripe for reclamation through thoughtless gentrification. (One of my final, fateful memories before I moved to North Carolina in 2006 was watching a threadbare, discombobulated pigeon stagger in sidewalk circles, impaled wingwise with a syringe. Tourists beware!) The primeval caveman roar of Birds of Maya—through which Polizze carved savage solos, wielding his guitar like a garotte—reflected that uneasy, transitional urban milieu.

Philly Haps

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Jake Xerxes Fussell w/ Mike Polizze (Birds of Maya) 7:30pm PhilaMOCA All Ages
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