The roots run deep down into the nourishing Georgia piedmont for this special showcase of the Explore Georgia Songwriter Series on Sat., Aug. 20, 2016 at The Loft in Columbus, where three young singer-songwriters—Jake Xerxes Fussell, Marshall Ruffin and Alia Torres—will perform music informed by regional history, eclectic influences and precocious songcraft. The 8 p.m. concert will be held in The Loft’s intimate Green Room space; tickets, $15 in advance and $20 at the door, are available here.
The son of folklorist, curator and photographer Fred C. Fussell, Jake Fussell grew up in Columbus accompanying his father on research trips, where he encountered the vividly eccentric characters who anímate Southern Americana. Omnivorously curious, Jake became determined to learn all he could about traditional Southern music. He apprenticed with blues pioneer Precious Bryant, cavorted with Alabama bluesman and black rodeo rider George Daniel, played in a country band with students of Jimmie Tarlton of Darby and Tarlton and pursued a Southern Studies degree at Ole Miss. As his bio notes, Fussell also “did a whole lot of listening, gradually honing his prodigious guitar skills, singing and repertoire.” The result is the fertile, variegated sonic landscape of his debut album, Jake Xerxes Fussell, released in 2015 by Paradise of Bachelors to critical accolades. Produced by and featuring artist William Tyler, the collection “transmutes ten arcane folk and blues tunes into vibey cosmic laments and crooked riverine rambles.” Painter, muralist and folk music preservationist Art Rosenbaum said, “From Georgia’s Sea Islands and Chattahoochee Valley to the Mississippi Delta to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jake is still listening and learning, and coming up with music that takes us to a deep place in the American spirit.”
An alumnus of the Berklee College of Music, Marshall Ruffin grew up in Virginia but spent a few post-Berklee years in Columbus, where he played guitar for gospel services at predominantly African-American churches. “The way I sing was really informed by that experience,” he says. “It was a close-knit musical community that brought together people of different backgrounds.” He also worked at The Loft while teaching guitar lessons at Gorilla Guitars. He has recorded two EPs under the Jammates label, and wrote and recorded an EP with the band King Lincoln. Ruffin currently lives in Atlanta, where in 2013 he won the prestigious Eddie’s Attic Songwriter Shootout and joined a list of previous winners including John Mayer and Jennifer Nettles. More recently he has toured Europe with the sculptor-turned-musician Lonnie Holley, who relies heavily on on-stage improvisation, and Ruffin’s song “Light The Way,” was featured during their session on BBC Radio 6—watch him and cellist Ben Sollee perform an impromptu version of the song here. Copies of his new live album, At the Grocery, which was recorded at Grocery On Home, will be available at the show.
Alia Torres, a newcomer with sultry, knowing vocals, took a decidedly non-traditional path to performance. She grew up in Germany, moving frequently as the daughter of a military father, eventually settling in Columbus. After a year-long sabbatical in Fiji in 2014, Torres returned to her adopted hometown determined to carve a career in music. At The Loft, she worked her way from intern to a spot as one of the club’s live sound engineers. That experience and the connections she made prepared her for a second role as technician and production assistant in the Audio Technology program at Columbus State University’s Schwob School of Music. But when she entered the first Uptown Idol contest in Columbus in 2015 and belted out the Ma Rainey song, “Farewell Daddy Blues,” Torres, who won, expanded her career repertoire yet again. Inspired by the creativity of Icelandic artist Bjork, she says, “I love folk. I love loud. I love honest. I love simple.” When she’s not behind the board running sound, Torres is writing music, learning to play guitar and sharing the stage with a variety of local musicians including Neal Lucas, the Shelby Brothers and the CSU Popular Music Ensemble.