october 2011

Glenn Jones: A nod to Fahey, then moving along.

What’s The Frequency?

Glenn Jones keeps the faith with John Fahey (and others) on The Wanting

By David McGee

Glenn Jones
Thrill Jockey

Seven years ago Glenn Jones walked away from his psych-rock band Cul de Sac to pursue a solo career—a solo guitarist’s career, at that. Nowadays he is firmly positioned in the front of the thinning, ranks of formidable acoustic pickers carrying on the iconoclastic tradition of John Fahey (it is not hype to say Jones wrote the book on Fahey—he did, for the newly released box set, Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You), playing acoustic steel string, six- and 10-string guitar and bottleneck while also demonstrating his progress on the five-string banjo. The instrumental voices of Fahey, with whom Jones and Cul de Sac once collaborated (on a 1997 album titled The Epiphany of Glenn Jones), Robbie Basho, Leo Kottke, and Peter Lang—the “Takoma” school—resonate throughout the stirring The Wanting, both in Jones’s muscular but sensitive picking and in his Impressionistic sensibility. Not only is Fahey present in spirit, but his influence is especially pronounced in song titles such as “The Great Swamp Way Rout” and the ambitious 17-minutes-plus album closer, “The Orca Grande Cement Factory At Victorville” (an homage to Fahey’s “The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California,” which Cul de Sac recorded on its debut album, Ecim) but less than in past Jones album titles such as Against Which the Sea Continually Beats, for example, and Barbecue Bob In Fishtown.

Glenn Jones, ‘Of Its Own Kind,’ from The Wanting

Being that all 11 songs here are instrumentals, but instrumentals with a specific intent in terms of tunings, colors, timbres and articulations, the listener can pretty much decide how to receive the music, which, come to think of it, is a very Fahey kind of conceit. The gentle, tenderly rendered treble passages and curlicue riffs of “A Snapshot of Mom, Scotland 1957” perhaps to Jones capture the spirit of the woman in question at a particular point in time, but might sound to others like a slow walk down a deserted country road on a warm, carefree summer day. His stark, solitary banjo on “The Great Swamp Way Rout” evokes a certain menacing backwoods ambiance in its agitated riffing, its anxious drive, enhanced by a spooky rolling refrain repeated periodically, whereas another banjo tune, “Menotomy River Blues,” is true to its title in being both evocative of a rolling river and tinged with blue despite its sturdy spirit—a literate picker such as John Hartford would have understood this completely. Like its title, “Even To Win Is To Fail” has a melancholy air in the slide’s mournful swoops and the funereal pace of the picked phrases, but a curious beauty to it as well, kind of like Kottke’s “Sailor’s Grave On the Prairie,” a piece the Jones song seems to nod at in acknowledgment of its influence. The 5:20 “My Charlotte Blue Notebook” (do you get the impression Jones came up with song titles by looking around his apartment or out his window?) is a lovely and loving, leisurely unfolding piece with dreamy glissando passages interspersed between meditative, yearning picked phrases, sounding for all the world like a bittersweet love song, with sweet trumping bitter. “The Wanting,” the title track, begins with an angry burst of trilled riffs before settling into an amiable lope amidst a bucolic ambiance, now bright and exulting in wonder, now subdued and reigned in, cautious, as if encountering some tantalizing but unmapped path begging discovery while hiding its dangers.

Glenn Jones, ‘The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California,’ originally recorded by Jones and his band Cul de Sac with John Fahey for Cul de Sac’s 1997 album, The Epiphany of Glenn Jones.

At 17:47 “The Orca Grande Cement Factory At Victorville” is causing great consternation among Jones’s fans in the press, as some laud its challenging sweep even as others write it off as self-indulgent and overlong by half. Whatever its meaning, “The Orca Grande…” demands attention, as it is one wild ride—wild, in the context of this album, meaning the intrusion of some fury approaching musique concrete into an otherwise contemplative journey. Jones’s own notes indicate he stitched together two separate pieces that weren’t working on their own (so much for the greater meaning of it all), then enlisted free-jazz drummer Chris Corsano to overdub four distinct passages through the track. Jones’s part is to sustain a hypnotic, rolling, fingerpicked riff while adding to the mix Corsano’s brush rolls, cymbal swells and bell accents, along with other sonic oddities—what sounds like a swoop of backwards tape, at about the 9:30 mark, for instance, or the jarring sound of street traffic rushing by at points (he really did record this in his apartment, so maybe we are hearing actual vehicles on the street outside the window through which he looks in search of song titles) and the occasional blip or bleep that may be on the disc or may have been coming from my computer. That it seems at times like a sound collage hearkens back to Cul de Sac's work, apparently under great duress, with Fahey on The Epiphany of Glenn Jones. Surely the late, great master is nodding approval somewhere, and when all is said and done, “The Orca Grande Cement Factory At Victorville,” concluding in its flurry of drum rolls, cymbal smashes, extraneous clicks and effects and onward rushing guitar, has a magic all its own. Which, come to think of it, is true of The Wanting in its entirety.

Glenn Jones’s The Wanting is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
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Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024