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Album Review: Jake Blount Mines the Past with a Modern Mindset on ‘The New Faith.’

By Richard Marcus

The New Faith, out 9/23 on Smithsonian Folkways, is the latest release from the innovative and expressive Jake Blount. Anyone familiar with his work will know: he’s one of a new generation of African American musicians who are reminding the listening public of their historic, indelible influence on Americana music. Picking up the old instruments; banjo, fiddle, and mandolin, they’re reaching back in time for their musical inspiration, but are often looking to the present and the future for their lyrical content.

Even within that context, Blount has done something special with The New Faith. He’s adapted and arranged African American spirituals, some of which date back to the 1600s, and interwoven them with his own biblically-toned descriptions of humanity coping with a post climate change apocalypse.

As befitting something equivalent to a bible for the modern age, The New Faith is divided into three books of instruction; “The Psalms of the Sentinel,” “The Psalms of the Gravedigger,” and “The Psalms of the Teacher.” Each book of Psalms contains its own story and songs. The music provides emotional depth, drawing the listener in with their beautiful arrangements and magnificent performances while we hear about the plight of those who survived the destruction of the world.

Blount is spectacular in his role of preacher and prophet. With all the vigor of a fire and brimstone evangelist, he recounts both the destruction of the planet and the exodus northwards of the survivors in the spoken word sections of the Psalms. Coincidently, these African American refugees emulate the migration in the early 20th century, when many travelled north of the Mason Dixon line in search of economic and social freedom.


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

While gospel might seem an odd choice for a queer artist to perform, Blount talks about the important role the church has played in African American politics and society in the accompanying liner notes. Not only has it provided comfort for the spirit, but church leaders have been the driving force behind the movements for change.

Blount uses the power inherent to this music to drive his message home, and the songs he’s chosen to interpret aren’t just any old gospel tunes. Some are taken from collections of field recordings made by Alan Lomax. The opening and closing tracks, “Take Me To The Water” and “Once There Was No Sun” are sourced from recordings of Bessie Jones who sang with The Georgia Sea Island Singers.

If you listen to the original recordings of either The Georgia Sea Island Singers or Bessie Jones you’ll notice the rhythmic structure is quite a bit different from other African American gospel music of the time. Their singing styles echo their traditional music and the cadence and syncopation of the voices are forceful and sharper – like someone drumming the heartbeat of the people.

Listening to The New Faith, you hear echoes of that sound. There’s a rawness to Blount’s singing and the musical accompaniment that not only breathes new life into these ancient tunes, but also makes them real within the album’s conceptual context. Is it not appropriate to be singing of the road to Hell becoming overcrowded (“The Downward Road”) when talking about how we’ve destroyed our own planet?

Other pieces on the album range from “Didn’t it Rain” made famous by Sister Rosetta Stone and Mahalia Jackson, to the old blues number, “Just as Well To Get Ready, You Got To Die” from Blind Willie McTell. While Blount treats the songs with the reverence they deserve, they’re much more than mechanical reproductions.

The New Faith is bold. Old traditional songs get mashed together not just with modern techniques, but also with modern forms, to create a sound that projects renewed relevance. Case in point? Midway through both “The Downward Road” and “Death Have Mercy,” rapper Justin “Demeanor” Harrington shows up to expand on the themes expressed in the originals, using 21st Century vernacular to better fit the songs within the context of the album.

Blount is remarkable. No matter what instruments are being played, or what song is being sung, he is front and center. His abilities as an instrumentalist (he plays banjo, guitar, bass, violin, and percussion) are astounding and his vocals are transcendent. The force of his creative presence makes the set compelling and unique.

Expressive, emotive, and exhilarating, Blount’s voice leads listeners on a remarkable pilgrimage through a history of African American spiritual music and a dystopian future of mankind’s own making. While the picture he creates is of a desperate future, he does offer us a brief ray of hope. By closing with an uplifting version of “Once There Was No Sun,” it’s as if he’s reassuring us: all might be darkness now, but there’s always a chance for the light to return. That hopeful ending is tempered, however, by the dire warning that preceded it. We’ve got a lot to overcome.

Jack Blount’s The New Faith is a remarkable and inspiring album driven by the passion and laudable talents of its creator. Blount walks a tightrope in time with formidable grace while delivering alarming news—it should be considered essential listening.

Richard Marcus has been writing about music, films, and books since 2005. He’s published three books commissioned by Ulysses Press. He currently edits the Books section at and is a regular contributor to He lives in Kingston, Ontario Canada with his feral accomplice and their cat.