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The amazing Afro-Futurist musician, Jake Blount and The New Faith

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Jake Blount's new album cover The New Faith
Courtesy Jake Blount
Jake Blount's new album cover The New Faith

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Bristol, Virginia for a conversation with musician Jake Blount who specializes in the traditional music of African Americans. He is also a founding board member of Bluegrass Pride. Blount is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who draws upon old-time, bluegrass, and blues influences.

Jake Blount (right) visits with correspondent Tom Wilmer at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Music Festival in Bristol, Virginia
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Music Festival
Jake Blount (right) visits with correspondent Tom Wilmer at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Music Festival in Bristol, Virginia

A backgrounder from his new album “The New Faith” --Jake Blount’s music is rooted in care and confrontation. He is a scholar of Black American music, speaking ardently about the African roots of the banjo and the subtle, yet profound ways African Americans have shaped and defined the amorphous categories of roots music and Americana.

His 2020 album Spider Tales (named one of the year’s best albums by NPR and The New Yorker, earned a perfect 5-star review from The Guardian) highlighted the Black and Indigenous histories of popular American folk tunes, as well as revived songs unjustly forgotten in the whitewashing of the canon.

Each song Blount plays is chosen for a reason - because it highlights important elements about the stories we tell ourselves of our shared history and our endlessly complicated present moment. The more we learn about where we’ve been, the better equipped we are to face the future.

The Underbed music in this show Didn’t it Rain is from Blount’s album The New Faith.

That future has become Blount’s focus on The New Faith. Conceived, written, and recorded during the darkest months of COVID-lockdowns, the album answers the question, “What would Black music sound like after climate change renders most of the world uninhabitable?

What gods would this community praise, and what stories would they tell?” Centering the album around radical arrangements of traditional songs, Blount draws connections between the plights of Black Americans and the horrors of enduring the disproportionate burden of the looming climate catastrophe.

The songs have origins that span centuries and come from a broad array of figures: enslaved individuals whose names had been violently stripped from the historical record, civil rights activist and organizer Fannie Lou Hamer, trailblazer and queer icon Sister Rosetta Tharpe, peerlessly expressive gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and blues paragons Skip James and Blind Willie McTell. Stomps and handclaps form the rhythmic basis for Blount’s interpretations, with trance-inducing fiddles, the leaden crunch of electric guitar, textural synthesized sounds, and the ecstatic whirl of the banjo filling out the margins. The bedrock is Blount’s voice, channeling the ragged triumph of a people still standing after centuries of continuous confrontations with Death.

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Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer is featured on the NPR.ORG Podcast Directory
Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer is featured on the NPR.ORG Podcast Directory

Tom Wilmer produces on-air content for Issues & Ideas airing over KCBX and is producer and host of the six-time Lowell Thomas award-winning NPR podcast Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer. Recorded live on-location across America and around the world, the podcasts feature the arts, culture, music, nature, history, science, wine & spirits, brewpubs, and the culinary arts--everything from baseball to exploring South Pacific atolls to interviewing the real Santa Claus in the Arctic.