PREMIERE: Jake Blount Brings New Life to ‘The Man Was Burning’
Jake Blount captured the bluegrass world's attention with his 2020 album Spider Tales, a deeply somber album of instrumentals and unearthly songs that cements the work of Black artists in the old-time canon. Today, The Boot is excited to share the exclusive premiere of Blount's latest recording.
Blount is as inquisitive as he is a fierce advocate for Black artists in Americana, so it is no surprise that his new single "The Man Was Burning" is as radical a change in sound as the lyrics' message.
Fans of Blount's foreboding string band sound will be surprised by the blues undertones of "The Man Was Burning," a rarely-recorded spiritual from the Lomax recordings from Blount's family's home region in Virginia. Blount waited out the pandemic in his family's farm, “just up the road from the plantation where our ancestors were kept,” he says.
Blount found the song on Virginia Work Songs, an old Smithsonian Folkways LP. The singer, Joe Lee, was 71 years old and incarcerated at Virginia’s Powhatan State Farm when John Lomax recorded him in 1936. Blount's rendition includes a bouncy drum and hand clap track, an ominous Gospel chorus, and electric guitar licks that call to mind the flames tickling a sinner's feet. Where Blount has song in a lower register in the past, he uses his upper range here, making the song feel just as rock'n'roll as it is bluesy.
"'The Man Was Burning' is a spiritual that echoes with burning hellfire," Blount told The Boot. "All of these supernatural, plagues of Egypt-type things are happening to this person ostensibly as punishment for his gambling. I don’t really mind people gambling, so I changed the verses to be about somebody who’s hoarding money and thinking too much of what it can do for him and is punished. This is kind of my 'Eat the Rich' moment."
Blount has a lengthy roster of tour dates scheduled over the coming months, including stops in Nashville, New Orleans, Seattle, Portland and Baltimore. You can find a full list of his upcoming tour dates via Blount's official website.
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