About this item
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 Nathan Bowles (drums), Casey Toll (bass), Nathan Golub (pedal steel), Libby Rodenbough (violin, vocals), and James Anthony Wallace (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, Out of Sight contains, among other moving curiosities, a fishmonger’s cry that sounds like an astral lament (“The River St. Johns”); a cotton mill tune that humorously explores the unknown terrain of death and memory (“Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues”); and a fishermen’s shanty/gospel song equally concerned with terrestrial boozing and heavenly transcendence (“Drinking of the Wine”). Jake has written a fascinating essay, about the nine songs he chose and his journey to them (available on the PoB website).
Like all things having to do with traditional music, there are multiple sources for these songs, many layers of transmission and interpretation. “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues” I heard from my friend Art Rosenbaum, who learned it from a Pete Seeger recording from the late ’40s. I first heard the Irish tragicomedy “Michael Was Hearty” via my pal Nathan Salsburg, guitar wizard and curator of the Alan Lomax Archive, who played me a YouTube video of an Irish Traveller and ballad singer named Thomas McCarthy, whose a cappella delivery of the song is striking and singular. “Oh Captain” is my bastardized reinterpretation of a beautiful deckhand’s song recorded by the singer, composer, and musicologist Willis Laurence James for Paramount Records in the early 1920s. In the mid-2000s when I was living in Oxford, Mississippi, I went to an estate sale at an antebellum house in town and found a first edition of Carl Sandburg’s famous 1927 book The American Songbag, which contains “Three Ravens.”
The great ballad singer and collector Bobby McMillon, of western North Carolina, has recorded a fine version of “The Rainbow Willow” under the title “Locks and Bolts,” the more common title. My friends Sally Anne Morgan and Sarah Louise (aka House and Land) have also recorded a beautiful rendering. I combined various versions from the Ozarks into the one that I sing, but the story is pretty much the same. “The River St. Johns” comes straight from one of Stetson Kennedy’s Florida WPA recordings of a gentleman named Harden Stuckey doing his interpretation of a fishmonger’s cry, which he recalls from a childhood memory. “Jubilee” is from the great Jean Ritchie’s family tradition. Her father probably sang it as more of a play-party type piece, or at least that’s what Art Rosenbaum tells me, but it’s taken on different forms since. “Drinking of the Wine” is a spiritual number, you might could say. The version to which I’m most faithful is one that was recorded by a group of Virginia menhaden fishermen singing it as a net-hauling shanty on a boat off the coast of New Jersey in the early 1950s. “16–20” is my very loose rearrangement of a tune that I’ve known for years. This was a popular dance piece among guitarists in the lower Chattahoochee River Valley of Georgia and Alabama, including my old friends George Daniel and Robert Thomas, from whom I learned it.
A1. The River St. Johns
A2. Michael Was Hearty
A3. Oh Captain
A4. Three Ravens
B1. Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
B2. The Rainbow Willow
B4. Drinking Of The Wine