Some people, it seems, are born with an innate talent; something so deeply etched into their being that, whatever it may be, for them it’s as easy as breathing. In the case of Daniel Bachman and Jake Xerxes Fussell, the six string guitar has two such people. Both men deliver their sets with an ease and style which truly does give the impression that they were born to play their chosen instruments.
Fussell’s set comes first, and it’s one surely met with high expectations from those who have heard last month’s excellent ‘What In The Natural World’ (a full review of which can be seen here.) Despite lofty expectations, Fussell delivers of a 50 minute set that not only matches but indeed betters his already great studio work. Boasting one of the most expressive and affecting voices in modern folk, Fussell can lay claim to being one of the most natural and talented traditional folk singers of the last decade. Stripped of the already subtle overdubs present on his albums, and armed with only a vintage Fender electric, Fussell delivers a set of simply stunning clarity and precision. Tonight the guitar is not so much played as caressed; Fussell delivering a note perfect performance with such style that he makes the whole thing look easy.
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For a man who performs only traditional music, Fussell has a real skill for making it seem as though he wrote every last word himself. Both musically and vocally, he’s so at home in live performance that, even more so than on the album, it seems that perhaps these songs were in fact penned by Fussell in another lifetime. It’s a set that’s warmly met; though Bexhill-on-Sea’s Albatross Club (a venue that recently played host to another great modern folk artist Itasca; more on that here) can accommodate no more than 60 or 70 people, the quality of Fussell’s set is clearly not lost on those in attendance.
By the time Daniel Bachman takes the stage, there’s a warmly expectant atmosphere in the room. After a previous Bexhill show some 11 months ago, there’s no question that Bachman’s set is bound to satisfy, and indeed it does. Over the past decade or so, Bachman has risen from self-releasing psychedelic Appalachia to becoming the number one name in contemporary instrumental fingerstyle guitar. It’s a small world, certainly, but despite some very fierce competition in the genre, Bachman’s quality, style and relentless work-ethic put him at the top of a small but highly prized list. Whilst his technical prowess is no secret to fans, those unaware are soon in-the-know as he opens with an abridged version of his perhaps his most complex piece, 2015’s ‘Won’t You Cross Over To That Other Shore’. It’s a piece of great dynamism, by turns sombre and soaring.
Whereas most artists would leave such a triumphant salvo to last, Bachman instead opens his set with it. It is simultaneously a sonic call to arms and a statement of intent. Bachman’s guitar work has never been fey or unfocused, and to hear one of his most intense and taut pieces at the very start of the show leaves a considerable impression. You’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s only so much one man can do with an acoustic guitar and nothing else, but Bachman proves just what a wide range of options exist for the inventive musician. In a set that ranges from dreamy ragas to swinging blues pieces, Bachman’s set is 50 minutes of music never short on variety.
Armed with both a vintage Martin six string – a guitar with no shortage of character, both sonically and in it’s heavily roadworn body – and a lap-slide, the audience find Bachman periodically changing between the two, allowing for a set with varied pacing both technically and stylistically. His time with the lap-slide sees him play a personal favourite, the gently melancholic sway of ‘Orange County Serenade’, whilst his time with the guitar sees him play through a variety of tracks from his surprisingly extensive back-catalogue, including the stomping blues of last year’s ‘Wine and Peanuts’.
A welcome surprise comes with the final song; Jake Fussell takes the stage once again, this time not to play guitar but the shruti box, a fascinating Indian instrument which produces a warm, undulating drone. Drone music is an area in which Bachman has had some experience before. A handful of his early recordings saw him experiment with sustained notes; and his most recent effort, last year’s self titled LP, has as its centerpiece two drone heavy songs. Here Bachman breaks out the lap-slide once more, but those in the audience who took a moment to close their eyes and absorb the warmly searing ambience of the drone may well have been forgiven for thinking Bachman had brought out a sitar. Quite how he managed to emulate the distinctive and remarkable sound of a sitar on a lap-steel is anyone’s guess but the results are transcendental. It’s a lengthy piece but it seems to fly by in the blink of an eye.
Bachman and Fussell are two performers clearly very at-home on stage. Whilst both have an enviable recorded output, theirs is music best experienced live. After tonight’s set, surely no one in the audience is left with any doubt that Daniel Bachman and Jake Xerxes Fussell are masters of their craft.