Zero Mile Presents

Mountain Man

With Jake Xerxes Fussell

Friday, March 22
7:00PM doors / 8:00PM show
All Ages
  • Price$23.00 - $29.00
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Mountain Man

Mountain Man did not intend to disappear for the better part of a decade, or to take eight years to release its second album, Magic Ship. But for a trio of devoted friends for whom music has always seemed so effortless and graceful, that’s simply how life went. The wondrous Magic Ship—a magnetic fourteen-song reflection on the joys, follies, and oddities of existence—was well worth the wait. In 2009, when she was a student at a small liberal arts college in New England, Amelia Meath heard a gorgeous sound coming from the living room of her dormitory. She raced downstairs to find Molly Erin Sarlé singing “Dog Song,” a tender tune about lust, longing, and responsibility. Meath demanded that Sarlé, nearly a stranger, teach her the tune, which she, in turn, taught to a friend, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. The next time the pair saw Sarlé, they sang “Dog Song” to, and then with, her. And so, Mountain Man was born. The three weren’t quite yet friends when they performed, recorded, and even toured for the first time, but they each felt the chemistry within their combined voices, a sense of artistic kismet and kinship that some spend lifetimes seeking. Acclaim came quickly, with their debut—2010’s Made the Harbor, humbly recorded on rickety equipment in an abandoned factory—earning praise from the New York Times and the Guardian and prompting big tours. But before they could return to the studio, post-collegiate life intervened: Meath moved to Durham, North Carolina and eventually started Sylvan Esso. Sarlé headed for a Zen center along the California coast. Sauser-Monnig returned to Minnesota, then decamped to a farm in the North Carolina mountains. They kept in touch with near-weekly conference calls, growing as friends while taking a break from making music together. When Sarlé was ready to leave California, though, Meath and Sauser-Monnig implored her to return east, saying they would even fly to her and drive with her across the country, so long as she settled in North Carolina. Together as friends, not as a band, the three made an all-American road trip. They camped beneath endless desert skies and partied with true New Orleans abandon. Finally home, they focused first on their relationship, singing together only as an extension of this personal reunion. At last, they tested their again-blossoming friendship onstage in the summer of 2017 at the Eaux Claires music festival. On a tiny, cabin-like stage tucked into a forest, where audiences of a few hundred are considered big, Mountain Man captivated several thousand, with people climbing trees and fighting through stinging nettles to catch a glimpse or whisper. Hanging on every note and between-song quip, the crowd stood transfixed and silent—a festival miracle, there in the woods. And so, Mountain Man was reborn. Months later, the trio reconvened at Meath’s home studio in Durham for two recording sessions, each bringing songs destined to be sung with old friends. The result, Magic Ship, is every bit as captivating as that day onstage: The stunning “Boat,” where cooing harmonies frame Sauser-Monnig like drapes around a sunny window, sees a world of possibility in a little vessel along the riverbanks. The dashing “AGT” finds inspiration in flower blooms and bumble bees, discovering in the sights of nature a pure self-reliance. The magnetic “Rang Tang Ring Toon” celebrates a night spent hosting friends, sharing beans and music, and a skinny dip under the stars. There is sincerity and humor, depth and mirth, all rendered with three voices that have never been more connected. These songs distill eight years of experience between Made the Harbor and now—of sights seen, pleasures had, feelings hurt, forgiveness extended. These tunes are wise and tender, open and honest. Magic Ship conveys absolute warmth—like a snowbound afternoon spent indoors, passing a bottle of brown liquor between friends while putting old favorites on the turntable, or a long summer evening spent lounging beneath a shade tree, swapping stories and sharing laughs until the sun has vanished. At a moment when the way forward for the world seems uncertain to the point of unraveling, when it feels that decades of impetuous decisions are catching up to the society we’ve created, Magic Ship offers a necessary sort of return and reassurance, a promise that goodness and truth remain available in our least-mitigated forms of expression. A weekend morning spent with a lover in bed, an innocent memory of pure childhood delight, a threadbare shirt from your parents: These are the experiences that Magic Ship so candidly shares, the moments of splendor that make the struggles worth it. —Grayson Currin

Jake Xerxes Fussell

Durham, North Carolina singer and guitarist Jake Xerxes Fussell‘s self-titled debut record, produced by and featuring William Tyler, transmutes ten arcane folk and blues tunes into vibey cosmic laments and crooked riverine rambles. Jake Xerxes (yes, that’s his real middle name, after Georgia potter D.X. Gordy) grew up in Columbus, Georgia, son of Fred C. Fussell, a folklorist, curator, and photographer who hails from across the river in Phenix City, Alabama (once known as “The Wickedest City in America” for its rampant vice, corruption, and crime.) Fred’s fieldwork took him, often with young Jake in tow, across the Southeast documenting traditional vernacular culture, which included recording blues and old-time musicians with fellow folklorists and recordists George Mitchell and Art Rosenbaum (which led Jake to music, and to some of the songs herein) and collaborating with American Indian artists (which led Jake eventually to his graduate research on Choctaw fiddlers.) As a teenager Jake began playing and studying with elder musicians in the Chattahoochee Valley, apprenticing with Piedmont blues legend Precious Bryant (“Georgia Buck”), with whom he toured and recorded, and riding wild with Alabama bluesman, black rodeo rider, rye whiskey distiller, and master dowser George Daniel (“Rabbit on a Log”). He joined a Phenix City country band who were students of Jimmie Tarlton of Darby and Tarlton; he accompanied Etta Baker in North Carolina; he moved to Berkeley, where he hung with genius documentary filmmaker Les Blank and learned from Haight folkies like Will Scarlett (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Brownie McGhee) and cult fingerstyle guitarist Steve Mann (“Push Boat”); he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. He did a whole lot of listening, gradually honing his prodigious guitar skills, singing, and repertoire. In 2005 he moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he enrolled in the Southern Studies department at Ole Miss, recorded and toured with Rev. John Wilkins, and in 2014, met up with acclaimed artist William Tyler to begin recording his first solo album. Collaborating with Tyler and engineer Mark Nevers in Nashville was a conscious decision to depart cloistered trad scenes and sonics for broader, more oblique horizons. Tyler, a guitar virtuoso known for his own compositions that untether and reframe traditional six-string forms and techniques, helmed the push boat in inimitable fashion, enlisting crack(ed) Nashville session vets Chris Scruggs (lap steel, bass, mandolin: Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Marty Stuart), Brian Kotzur (drums: Silver Jews), and Hoot Hester (fiddle; Bill Monroe, Ray Charles) to crew. Fussell follows his celebrated self-titled debut with a moving new album of Natural Questions in the form of transmogrified folk/blues koans. This time these radiant ancient tunes tone several shades darker while amplifying their absurdist humor, illuminating our national, and psychic, predicaments. What in the Natural World features art by iconic painter Roger Brown and contributions from three notable Nathans—Nathan Bowles (Steve Gunn), Nathan Salsburg (Alan Lomax Archive), and Nathan Golub (Mountain Goats)—as well as Joan Shelley and Casey Toll (Mt. Moriah).