Delving deep into the history of the Appalachian genre, Jake Blount's new record, 'Spider Tales' highlights the role of the enslaved African American community in the music and the inspiration of the legendary African trickster known as Anansi the Spider. The practice of telling spider tales in music and words, known as an act of rebellion and the music and stories in this collection, handed down through generations of African Americans ensure that those stories survive.
An accomplished banjo and fiddle player, Blount’s light earthy vocal is perfectly suited to the music and when joined by fiddle player Tatiana Hargreaves, the playing and vocal harmonies combine to realise the spirit of the music.
The songs are sometimes brutal; Josie Miles’ ‘Mad Mama’s Blues’ with its blood-soaked streets, Leadbelly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ with its thinly-veiled take on lynching. There’s an apocalyptic feel to ‘The Angels Done Bowed Down’, while the rawness of instrumental ‘Old Time-Grey Eagle’ is stark.
‘Move Daniel’ originally composed by the enslaved Gulliah-Geeche people out of desperation to guide one of their one (Daniel) to steal food from their master to prevent them from starving shows how the communities who composed these songs had to think and act covertly just to survive.
Addressing racism behind the common theft of songs and tunes, ‘Boll Weevil’ is credited to Tommy Jarrell who learned it from a black woman yet never gave her credit. Similarly, ‘Blackbird Says To The Crow’ by Cuje Bertram – a popular fiddler and music teacher – was never properly acknowledged because of the colour of his skin.
In curating this collection of music, Jake Blount clearly feels a love for and shows a deep academic understanding of it. Over all, ‘Spider Tales’ is an engrossing listen that takes a refreshing look at the history of the music, the often brutal stories behind it, and challenges the whitewashed stereotype associated with its origins.