Jake Blount performs at Pearl Street Warehouse on Oct. 15, 2022. (Photos by Rashad Polk)
Though he’s now based in Providence, Rhode Island, Jake Blount is originally from Washington, DC. That made his recent visit to Pearl Street Warehouse — in a record release event for his The New Faith — a homecoming, and one well attended by many old friends. Many in the audience seemed to know Jake and his band, and there was a loose, easy interaction between the performers and the crowd throughout the evening.
As Jake explained to the Pearl Street audience on Oct. 15, he gathers and interprets old songs, especially from the Southeastern United States, from Black and indigenous musical traditions. His latest LP, The New Faith, expands on his previously acoustic, string-band style to include electric instrumentation as well as rap and hip hop. The songs, though, are old gospel numbers and spirituals, interpreted for how they might sound in a post-apocalyptic world shaped by climate change.
Backgrounding the project is Jake’s deep love for science-fiction. The work of Octavia Butler deeply influenced The New Faith. The clearest connection is to her duology The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents, written in the ’90s and set in what would actually be right about now. The novels take place on Butler’s native West Coast (she was born in Los Angeles and passed away in Seattle, sadly, at the relatively young age of 58), and they depict a future in which the United States has crumbled and remains united in name only. Civilization falls apart and demagogues rise, against which the main characters create a new religion, Earthseed, to guide humanity into the future — and to the stars. I suspect that the title The New Faith alludes to this.
While these connections to the Parable novels seem clear, apocalyptic themes appear in much of Butler’s work. In the Xenogesis saga (alternately called “Lilith’s Brood”), what remains of humanity after nuclear war is preserved by aliens.
Stream The New Faith by Jake Blount on Spotify:
Before he got to the new material though, Jake and his band performed a first set, all acoustic, as Jake said, an “old-time string band.” Guitarist Yasmin Williams had been slated to open the show, but she had taken ill. The set included a Ralph Stanley song, “One Drop of Water,” that Jake told the audience, “George brought to the table a while back, that took us a good long while.” They also played an arrangement of the folk song “John Henry” put together by Sid Hemphill of Mississippi. That one depicts the conflict between man and machine, as the titular character competes with a steam hammer to open a tunnel in a mountain. Much as things ended in the episode of Celebrity Deathmatch in which Rage Against the Machine fought The Machine, the machine ultimately won here, as Henry collapsed after breaking through the mountain.
In addition to the string band material, there was also a jazz song from Alberta Hunter, “You Can’t Tell the Difference After Dark,” which tackles “a common for Black people or people or color when dating or seeking love in an interracial context.” The opening set also included an instrumental and ended with “Rocky Road To Dublin.”
When the band returned from intermission, the acoustic guitar had been swapped out for an electric, and many of the songs were played with backing tracks on tape for additional instrumentation. They started off with “Land Was Burning” and “The Downward Road,” after which Jake prompted the audience, “If you’re concerned about climate change, let me hear you!” He asked, “When does revolution become a moral necessity?”
After an instrumental, Jake and his band played “I Am The Devil.” He described “Once There Was No Sun” as a “meditation on the time before the sun and moon,” and he spoke about his research into the song. As it turned, the singer Bessie Jones had regarded much as he does, as “a statement of gratitude.” The next tune was a very old one, from the 1600s in Jamaica, one of three written down that captured the traditional music of enslaved people from Africa. It came from the Congo, which, Jake shared, genetic testing has shown is where his ancestors are from.
Watch the official music video for “Once There Was No Sun” by Jake Blount on YouTube:
Introducing “A City Called Heaven,” he asked if there were any fans of the singer and activist Fannie Lou Hamer in the house. The set took a bit of a turn when the band played “Doctrine,” written by another musician in Providence, which Jake dedicated “to all the Republicans” present, though. “I assume they’ve already left.” He’s not shy about expressing his heavily left-leaning opinions; while he doesn’t especially care for Nancy Pelosi, he approved of her promise to punch Florida Man in the mouth if he made certain advances on Capitol Hill.
The penultimate song of the evening, “Didn’t It Rain,” was made famous by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a native of Cotton Plant, Arkansas, who “caused a scandal” when she played gospel hymns on electric guitar in New York City nightclubs. Jake and his band finished off the show with an old Cherokee tune, “We’re Gonna Hunt The Buffalo.”
The New Faith has received great reviews, and deservedly so. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.
Here are some photos of Jake Blount performing at Pearl Street Warehouse on Oct. 15, 2022. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Rashad Polk.