"She's my favourite little pie, on a window sill / I heard one taste of ya, mama, would be any man's fill."
So begins the new album by 26-year-old New York singer-songwriter John Fatum. While some listeners might find this wistful lust charming, others might find the objectification and male gaze-y-ness downright off-putting. Sure, the blues have a long history of frank sexuality, but the historical context (the policing of African-American sexualities) adds a layer of complexity and importance. In 2016, a white man singing in this way, is, well, a bit out of touch, at best.
Perhaps "out of touch" is an aesthetic goal for Fatum. Certainly, the rootsy textures indicate a desire for (ostensibly) simpler times; folky acoustic strumming, bluesy harmonica, plucky mandolin and a weary sigh in Fatum's voice indicate a fascination with folk revivalism. It's pretty on the surface, but lacks the cultural relevance or originality needed to sustain deeper interest.
Reading that Fatum studied jazz and grew up on gospel, blues and country, one might have expectations that the music would reflect that, or at least have some of the progressive spirit that drives so many jazz musicians. It's disappointing, though, to hear how much this album just apes some of the most common influences in the folk genre (Bob Dylan, the Band, Neil Young, etc.). This style of folk music typically draws strength from a progressive spirit, working best when commenting or critiquing (like Father John Misty or Sturgill Simpson) or offering poetic insight (like Andy Shauf or Conor Oberst).
Unfortunately Fatum, doesn't seem to have as much to say, nor a particularly interesting way of saying it. (Dala Records)