Anyone for a folk-gospel-blues-hip-hop Afrofuturist concept album set in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by climate change?
Jake Blount’s first release for the classic Smithsonian Folkways label was conceived, written and recorded during the darkest months of COVID lockdowns, which helps to explain the dystopian themes he explores on the record.
A timely, Afrofuturist concept album, ‘The New Faith’, is based on rearrangements and reinterpretations of traditional folk, blues and gospel songs, and it concerns itself with answering the question: ‘What would black music sound like after climate change renders most of the world uninhabitable?’
Blount, who is a scholar of black American music, imagines a scenario where, on the shores of an island in Maine, a religious ceremony is performed by black refugees after the collapse of global civilisation.
This isn’t an album to be approached lightly, but although it tackles heavy themes, it’s often surprisingly uplifting – spiritually hopeful about the future, as well as angry at what we’ve done to the planet.
First single, a new take on Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s ‘Didn’t It Rain’, deals with the story of the Great Flood, and is anthemic gospel-blues, with some superb, raw electric guitar, while prison song, ‘Tangle Blue Eyes,’ is a striking and dramatic blues lament , with funereal country fiddle and Blount pondering: “Lord, I wonder will I ever get back home?” and telling us how he left his love and the baby in the wreckage, cryin’, and blaming the devil for the predicament he’s in.
‘Parable’ is a spoken word piece about the fate of the refugees, which is set to a loping, funky rhythm track, ‘Death Have Mercy’, featuring rapper Demeanor, embraces hip-hop, mixing it with gospel-blues – Demeanor also appears on the bluegrass of ‘The Downward Road’ – and ‘They Are Waiting For Me’ is a straight, acoustic folk song. There’s also a stirring rendition of Blind Willie McTell’s ‘Just As Well Get Ready, You Got to Die’, with banjo, percussive elements and soaring strings.
Telling of life – and death – in a brave new world, it’s a brave record that’s at times new – and very of the moment – but also rooted in music that’s centuries old. It’s occasionally overbearing, with too much going on – there’s a prayer, a parable and a psalm throughout the course of the album – and stylistically some of the tracks don’t sit comfortably together.
‘The New Faith’ feels more like a set of traditional songs adapted for a contemporary stage musical, rather than an album designed for repeating listening, but it’s certainly an interesting, clever and radical experiment.