by James Calvet
Steel-string master Glenn Jones refrains from using his voice in his music, but has the ability to paint detailed pictures and tell complex stories through banjo and acoustic guitar. From note to note Jones gracefully glides through melodies that are undoubtedly American but have a masterful baroque feel. Though most American Primitive albums conjure images of American history and tradition, Glenn Jones has created an album simultaneously focused on the past, present and future on his 6th studio album Fleeting.
With the help of John Fahey, American Primitivism has been around since the late 1950's and has remained the on the fringes of modern folk music. Without the use of singing, Primitivism relies on the skillfulness of the solo performer and their stringed instrument of choice. After the dissolution of post-rock outfit Cul De Sac, Glenn Jones (not to be confused with the R&B singer of the same name) has been releasing intimate and captivating American Primitive albums since the early 2000's.
On Fleeting, Jones pulls inspiration from Appalachian folk music and somber blues, but the precise articulation of notes lends to comparisons of classical guitar music. Though his style is incredibly technical, it by no means feels stale or heavily calculated. The melodies and rhythms read as easy and organic as an improvised blues tune or the scatting of a skilled jazz singer. Undoubtedly, Jones has the ability to convey complex emotions and feelings just the picking of six or five strings.
In the liner notes, Glenn Jones gives a little background to nearly every track. Many of the tracks are dedicated to people of his past including his mother and fellow musicians Michael Chapman and Robbie Basho. "Portrait of Basho as a Young Dragon" is a composition dedicated to the eccentric guitarist constructed appropriate to sound like a folk song written while spending times in the cosmos. The track is sentimental and pays tribute to the strange, enthralling and tragic life Bash led, and thankfully Glenn Jones puts in enough of his own voice into the track making it sound more like a note to a friend rather than an imitation. The eighth track "Close to the Ground" is a crawling, nocturnal stomp recalling a strange night Glenn Jones and Michael Chapman shared lost in a city in the Netherlands. Much like any memory, the stories in these songs are blurry yet vivid, where re-telling and recollection of these stories through music may tell more stylized narrative than what actually happened, but it is still all so real nonetheless.
The recording of Fleeting took place in a house on the banks of Rancocas Creek in Mount Holly New Jersey. Jones melded together the naturalness of his music with the outside world that he lived in when constructing this record. At night, Glenn Jones slept on the back deck of the house where the hustle and bustle of the woods and creek awoke his at morning. The outside sounds then found their way into the recording of this album, where in most tracks you can hear the sounds of birds and other creatures in the background. Most clearly on "June Too Soon, October All Over" the croaks and chirps of the present outside world find a home behind Glenn's picking as if he is part of the present landscape outside. The offbeat rhythms of the animal sounds juxtaposed with Jones' precise picking melds incredibly well where the composed is paired with the impromptu. The natural feeling of this record shows that Glenn Jones wants to capture a present moment in sound much like a photograph on a reel of film where each idiosyncrasy is on display to convey the humanness of his craft.
By the end of this record, we find that Glenn Jones is neither trying to revive the past or live only in the present, but also looks toward the future. On the two tracks dedicated to his children, "Cleo Awake" and "Cleo Asleep", the compositions read as lullabies or notes to his daughter. Though they are gentle and soft like any song for a child, they convey a sense of hope for the future of his children. Jones' guitar work on this record is also an improvement of the skills of his predecessors. Unlike Fahey or Kottke, Jones' has a knack for sounding modern without disregarding his roots. His guitar playing takes influences of post rock and modern classical while still paying tribute to the folk and blues guitarists he learned from.
The title of the album, Fleeting, explicitly refers to the fleetingness of memory of loved ones but also points out that when memories leave or get lost, there is room for new memories. The album thematically also shows that lives of loved ones are also fleeting, where they may be present for only a short amount of time, but the memories we retell again and again, whether it be through song or story, is what really matters. The collection of songs that Glenn Jones has put together for Fleeting is his most thematic and cohesive yet with a feeling of mastery through every track. After his prolific career, Glenn Jones has finally marked a recording of mastery on Fleeting and proves through both song and story that American Primitive folk music lives on in the modern world.