“An incredible example of historically informed, beautifully played old-time music.” – Rhiannon Giddens
“After humanity’s debt to the planet came due, our ancestors crawled from the wreckage of their sunken cities and out of the deserts where once they had grown food enough for millions. Chance brought 30 survivors together, hundreds of miles to the south of here. Worn down by storms and starvation, they set their sights northward, and followed the coast to find a new home….”
So begins the parable at the heart of Jake Blount’s new album The New Faith, a towering achievement of dystopian Afrofuturism and his first album for Smithsonian Folkways (coming September 23, 2022). The New Faith is spiritual music, filled with hope for salvation and righteous anger in equal measure. The album manifests our worst fears on the shores of an island in Maine, where Blount enacts an imagined religious ceremony performed by Black refugees after the collapse of global civilization due to catastrophic climate change. Most importantly, it snaps us out of our tragically limited historical vantage point to better understand our actions and culture as they exist in deep time. If singing songs together as a community reminds us of who we are and where we come from, Blount harnesses that power to show us what may be remembered when our connection to our natural environment is severed – when our relationships with Death and each other are transformed into something more beautiful and more horrifying than anything we could have imagined.
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.
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