Live From the Black Mountain Theatre, in Harlan, Ky

Jesse and the Revelator

CENTRAL QUESTION: Love or revolution?
Not to be confused with: “John the Revelator” (song), Time (The Revelator) (album), Jon-Rae and the River (band), Jesse and the Rippers (fictional band); Instruments used: guitar, melodica, oboe, organ, ukulele, vocals; Media sampled: Badlands; Harlan County, USA; To Kill a Mockingbird; “The Scarlet Ibis”; WYMT-TV 57; Historical figures mentioned: Maximilien de Robespierre, Tony Boyle, Joseph “Jock” Yablonski, Lawrence Jones, Don Blankenship, J. H. Blair; Representative realism: “Of course I know we deserve that higher wage / Of course I can imagine riding in that safer cage / If I could tell the truth I’d say I’m just plain old afraid / to bite the hand that sees every Friday that I’m paid”; Representative idealism: “A man who never organizes becomes a mob.”

“The best folk music released in 2013 was, almost without exception, of the intensely personal variety.” That’s NPR introducing its list of “The Top 10 Folk and Americana Albums of 2013.” The formulation, however breezy, handily captures our expectations of current Americana heroes (Sarah Jarosz, Jason Isbell), folk and anti-folk troubadours (Iron and Wine, Kimya Dawson), and practiced singer-songwriters (Bill Callahan, Mark Kozelek): a focus on the individual performer and on quasi-autobiographical content. The same bias has been reinforced by reissues (Richard and Linda Thompson) and fictionalizations (Crazy Heart, Inside Llewyn Davis). Even the “indie-folk” acts who have tried to elude the predominance of the personal have done so almost exclusively through recourse to bucolic soundscapes, lush harmonies, and woodsy imagery (Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Phosphorescent).

—Jeremy Schmidt

Jeremy Schmidt is a doctoral student at UCLA. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Boston Review, Lana Turner, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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