REVIEW: Jake Blount’s “Spider Tales” is Dusty and Rural Authenticity


Jake Blount – Spider Tales

I’m often impressed by how proficient a young musician is when he applies his skill to a genre beyond his years. Jake Blount resurrects an Appalachian style on some originals & draws on its roots for an LP of traditional American, bluegrass, country, folk & African-American sources.

Free Dirt Records’ release May 29 Jake’s 14-cut Spider Tales, that focus’ on emotion, ruinous hardship, anger, all through haunted “crooked” instrumentals, modal keys, stark songs & unorthodox melodic structures.

Blount’s voice is perfect despite his youth — his tone is dusty, rural & with the banjo & fiddle combination nothing but authentic. “Move Daniel” is especially enthusiastic. Delightfully infectious.

Appalachian music as interpreted by Jake draws on African-American culture (blues, religious stories & folklore) & the traditional folk song origins. The European melodies from 18th Century English ballads, Irish & Scottish traditional music, hymns, narratives, dance music (reels), Gaelic are evident. With roots firmly planted & cross-pollinated, bluegrass sprung, & blues blossomed from the African-American experience.

This is where the music inherited much of its charm. The beauty of many musical sources mixed into a great flavorful stew. A flavorful stew of hard times.

Hardship’s not exclusive to Blacks, the whites of Appalachia are dirt poor, impoverished, lack education & were victims of injustices that came with their existence. They certainly related to the era of hardship blacks were familiar with. Their musical expression passed down from generations – some never written down.

Early immigrants brought a church singing form: “lining out.” One person sings a line of a psalm/hymn & the congregation responds. This continues today in Baptist churches. Black immigrants helped ensure these traditions survived. Then, of course, there’s Jake Blount.

“Rocky Road to Dublin,” is just one performed with vigor & throughout the LP others exceptionally performed by Jake (banjo & fiddle) & his musicians. Nic Gareiss (feet), Tatiana Hargreaves (fiddle, vocals), Rachel Eddy (guitar), Haselden Ciaccio (bass) & Jeff Claus (banjo-uke).

Though it’s said songs are reputed to have been learned from a black musician (& that’s indeed true, in some cases) it doesn’t necessarily mean they composed the song. Many tunes historically were passed down just like many old songs were passed down among settlers of Appalachia. I’ve heard black musicians sing Scottish ballads. It doesn’t matter. The miracle is how they interpreted, & reinterpreted songs of their ancestors.

“Spider Tales,” is one such extraordinary example of songs depicting the strength to survive. Jake’s instrumentals are invigorating, well-played, a labor of love & filled with disciplined performances. They never lose traditional sparkle. Where does the African-American influence come? The 1920’s blues singer Josie Miles’ “Mad Mama’s Blues,” is ideal. Her tune fits like a cousin. One of the best cuts.

The 19th Century Black folk song that became a soulful rocker “Stagger Lee,” went through transformations: “Skeeg-a-Lee Blues,” “Stack-o-Lee,” “Stack O’Lee,” “Stack-a-Lee,” & “Stagolee.” Some authorship in question. But it was adopted & is now a classic. Jake is to be admired for carrying on such a tradition.

The 46-minute CD produced by Jeff Claus & Judy Hyman is available on Jake’s website.


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