Photo credit: Tadin Brown
September 8, 2022—Acclaimed musician and scholar Jake Blount’s new rendition of “The Downward Road,” featuring Greensboro-based rapper Demeanor, is debuting today. Listen/share HERE.
Reflecting on the song, which was made familiar by singer Jim Williams and first recorded in the 1930s by Alan Lomax, a well-known ethnomusicologist, Blount shares, “‘The Downward Road’ was the proving ground for much of the sonic experimentation on The New Faith. I think these were the first vocal harmonies I ever recorded – and definitely the first fiddle solo. My co-producer, Brian Slattery, used this track to show me how to put percussion loops together. We wound up re-recording harmonies, fiddles and percussion as we learned to perform the parts better and get better sounds with our home recording rigs. Demeanor threw some incredible verses on it. ‘The Downward Road’ was the first song we began to work on for this release, and the last one we finished – and it does a better job than any other track at encapsulating the backstory behind The New Faith.”
“The Downward Road” is the third song unveiled from Blount’s highly-anticipated new album, The New Faith, which will be released September 23 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings—Blount’s first project in partnership with the esteemed non-profit label (pre-order/pre-save). The follow up to 2020’s breakthrough debut, Spider Tales, which The Guardian awarded a perfect five stars and called, “an instant classic,” The New Faith will be released as part of Smithsonian Folkways’ African American Legacy series—co-conceived with and supported by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Ahead of the release, Blount has shared two additional tracks: “Didn’t It Rain,” made famous by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson, and “Once There Was No Sun,” made familiar by legendary American folk singer Bessie Jones. Of the latter and its accompanying music video, Rolling Stone praises, “a gorgeous clip that belies the endangered state of the planet,” while American Songwriter declares, “it’s a stunner with eye-popping choreography and delightful musicality. It’s a cup of coffee in your otherwise bleary-eyed day.”
In celebration of the album, Blount will tour through the end of the year with upcoming headline shows at Seattle’s Tractor Tavern, Portland’s Show Bar at Revolution Hall, Los Angeles’ Hotel Café, Nashville’s The Analog at the Hutton Hotel, Atlanta’s Eddie Attic and New Orleans’s Gasa Gasa among many others. In addition to the headline dates, Blount will also make appearances at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival, AmericanaFest and Bourbon and Bluegrass Festival this fall. See below for complete tour itinerary.
A dystopian Afrofuturistic concept album, the record features ten reimagined and reinterpreted traditional Black spirituals across twelve tracks in addition to two original spoken word pieces. Conceived, written and recorded during the darkest months of lockdowns—while Blount himself was still recovering from what he now knows was likely a bout with long COVID—and just after the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, the album aims to envision what Black religious music would sound like in a not-so-distant future world devastated by climate change.
Of the ambitious project, Blount shares,
“I have long felt a powerful draw to the old spirituals passed down in my community. I am an unlikely devotee; I only rarely attended church as a child, declared myself an atheist at the tender age of eight and developed a strong antipathy toward Christianity when I began to understand my queerness. Nonetheless, spirituals are the songs I bring to communal singing events. They are the songs I teach. In moments of homesickness, sorrow and fear, they are the songs I turn to for solace.
This record envisions Black American religious music in a future devastated by warfare and anthropogenic climate change. The record is based on field recordings of Black religious services from the early-to-mid 20th century, but it is composed entirely of new arrangements and subtle rewrites of traditional Black folk songs. To make an informed prediction, I referenced a more diverse cross-section of the African Diaspora’s music than I ever have before. This album incorporates sounds from Belize, Georgia, Jamaica, Texas, Mississippi, New York and beyond. 
It is not surprising to me that the most paralyzing time of my life, and the deepest dive into history I’ve yet taken, have resulted in an Afrofuturist album. I believe our most likely future bears a close resemblance to our past.
The end result is an album comprised of songs and sounds heard in traditional African and African American ceremony, but updated with modern techniques. Drums, banjos, fiddles and song meet rock and roll, rap, looping, and contemporary arrangements. Ambient sounds and drone material collected on Cushing’s Island, Maine, establish the soundscape. I discerned the sound of the future by listening to the past and present.
The destruction of a way of life entails both loss and growth. The traditional songs I adapted for The New Faith originally developed among a people who had but recently been robbed of home, history, family, culture, and society. The unique history of African American people made our musical tradition an ideal candidate for my ambitious task. The New Faith is a statement of reverence for our devastating, yet empowering past; of anticipation and anxiety toward our uncertain future; and of hope that, come what may, something of us will yet survive.”
Produced by Blount along with Brian Slattery, the album was recorded mainly in Blount’s own bedroom in Providence, RI. In addition to Blount on vocals, fiddle, banjo, bass, percussion and strings and Slattery on percussion, guitar and strings, the album features guest appearances by Demeanor, D’orjay The Singing Shaman, Samuel James, Kaïa Kater, Lizzie No, Mali Obomsawin, Brandi Pace, Rissi Palmer and Lillian Werbin.
Based in Providence, RI, 26-year-old Blount is an award-winning banjoist, fiddler, singer and scholar specializing in the folk traditions of Black and indigenous Americans. In 2020, his debut solo album, Spider Tales, launched at #2 on the Billboard Bluegrass chart and received overwhelming critical praise landing on year-end best of lists at the The New Yorker, NPR Music and more. In addition to his solo work, he is half of the internationally touring duo Tui, a recipient of 2020 the Steve Martin Banjo Prize, a two-time winner of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival (better known as Clifftop) and a founding member of Bluegrass Pride. Blount has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Newport Folk Festival and numerous other venues across and beyond the U.S. He has presented his scholarly work at museums and universities including the Smithsonian Institution, Berklee College of Music and Yale University. His writing has appeared in Paste MagazineNo Depression, and NPR Music.
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States. The label’s mission is to document music, spoken word, instruction and sounds from around the world, continuing the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948. The Smithsonian acquired Folkways from the Asch estate in 1987 and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has continued the Folkways tradition by supporting the work of traditional artists and expressing a commitment to cultural diversity, education and increased understanding among peoples through the production, documentation, preservation and dissemination of sound.
The Psalms of the Sentinel
1. Take Me to the Water / Prayer
2. The Downward Road
3. Didn’t It Rain
4. Tangle Eye Blues
The Psalms of the Gravedigger
5. Parable
6. Death Have Mercy
7. City Called Heaven
8. They Are Waiting for Me
The Psalms of the Teacher
9. Psalms
10. Just as Well to Get Ready, You Got to Die
11. Give Up the World
12. Once There Was No Sun
September 8—Charlotte, NC—The Evening Muse
September 9—Asheville, NC—Isis Music Hall
September 10-11—Bristol, TN—Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival
September 15—Nashville, TN—AmericanaFest @ The Basement
September 16—Hickory, NC—Sails Music Series
September 17—Knoxville, TN—Boyd’s Jig & Reel
September 18—Louisville, KY—Bourbon and Bluegrass Festival
September 19—Lexington, KY—WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour
September 20—Bellefontaine, OH—Holland Theatre
September 21—Lansing, MI—The Robin Theatre
September 22—Chicago, IL—The Hideout
September 23—Madison, WI—The North Street Cabaret
September 24—Winona, MN—Boats and Bluegrass
September 25—Minneapolis, MN—First Avenue & 7th St Entry
September 28—Wethersfield, CT—Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum
October 4—Baltimore, MD—Well of Souls Book Launch
October 8—Burlington, VT—Black Opry Revue
October 9—Portland, ME—Black Opry Revue
October 14—Philadelphia, PA—World Cafe Live
October 15—Washington, DC—Pearl Street Warehouse
October 16—Charlottesville, VA—The Front Porch
October 18—Brooklyn, NY—Jalopy Theater
October 19—Boston, MA—Club Passim
October 20—Sheffield, MA—Dewey Hall
October 21—Providence, RI—Columbus Theatre
October 22—Saratoga Springs, NY—Caffe Lena
October 23—Portland, ME—One Longfellow Square
November 3—Westford, MA—Fiddle Hell 2022
November 8—Seattle, WA—Tractor Tavern
November 9—Portland, OR—Show Bar at Revolution Hall
November 11—Prosser, WA—Brewminatti
November 12—Eugene, OR—Tsunami Books
November 13—Ashland, OR—Cedarwood Barn
November 15—Berkeley, CA—Freight & Salvage
November 17—Santa Cruz, CA—Kuumbwa Jazz Center
November 18—San Luis Obispo, CA—Castoro Cellars
November 19—Los Angeles, CA—Hotel Café
December 9—Baltimore, MD—Creative Alliance
December 10—Floyd, VA—Floyd Country Store
December 12—Nashville, TN—The Analog at the Hutton Hotel
December 13—Chattanooga, TN—Barking Legs Theater
December 14—Atlanta, GA—Eddie’s Attic
December 15—Jacksonville Beach, FL—Blue Jay Listening Room
December 16—Ybor City, FL—The Attic
December 17—Gainesville, FL—Heartwood Soundstage
December 18—New Orleans, LA—Gasa Gasa
January 28—Florence, OR—Florence Arts Winter Music Festival


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