(New Album Review) Glenn Jones- My Garden State

Cul de Sac is one of my all time favorite groups. Their lead guitarist, Glenn Jones, summed up their appeal in an interview with Perfect Sound Forever I stumbled upon a while back: “[…] I feel Cul de Sac could have happened only in America. Our reference points, however far-flung, are synthesized in a way that is not only unique to us, but are somehow peculiar to an ‘American’ sensibility: raggedy-assed, largely self-taught (i.e.; non-academic), primitive, excessive, vulgar, sentimental, contradictory, flinty, non-discriminating between “high” and “low” means of expression, non-technical.”

I like the irony in the way that Glenn Jones uses such highfalutin language to describe Cul de Sac as a “vulgar” rock and roll band. That was always the unique Cul de Sac charm: they were an intellectual band that didn’t really try to be intellectual. Most music that has arbitrarily fallen under the post-rock label is somewhat repetitively sad and ethereal, and as much as I like music in that vein, Cul de Sac is the point in this idiom where I really feel at home.

Parallel to his work with Cul de Sac, Jones has cultivated a modest and intellectually-earnest career out of fingerpicking short albums of acoustic guitar pieces. His latest, My Garden State, is, like all the others, humble, pleasant, and accomplished.

There’s a wry sense of mystery in the odd, vaguely exotic tunings and intricate arpeggios that is characteristic of his work. “Blues for Tom Carter”, for instance, wavers at the brink of something more sinister than the blues to masterful effect. Tracks like “Alconeur Gardens”, “The Vernal Pool”, and “Like a Sick Eagle Looking at the Sky” use the blues and bluegrass idioms but subvert them to make them a little more meditative, dwelling on some unknown darkness lingering at the edges of a rural scene. I feel I can assume that these pieces are, in Jones’s mind, tied with the ambience of certain places and memories he’s accumulated in his home state of New Jersey over the years, though I don’t want to project too much of that impression onto the tracks themselves. My Garden State is sombre and mysterious even in the little moments of joy you can find here and there, such as in “Going Back to East Montgomery”. Two ambient pieces, “Chimes” and “Chimes II” bookend the eight guitar pieces, and Jones also incorporates field recordings into the album.

It would be impossible not to compare Jones with his main influence John Fahey, especially since the two have collaborated in the past. I think the main difference between the two is that Fahey mostly stayed firmly within the musical idioms that he was interested in (and perhaps also just wanted to expose people to). You have to remember that Fahey was known to dislike hippies, and Jones grew up liking Jimi Hendrix and Syd Barrett. To put it plainly, I think that Jones’s take on American music is more reflective and dark than Fahey’s. Jones is interested in the preservation of the aesthetic of this American music, but he also subverts it a little more than Fahey, though arguably nowhere near as much as Robbie Basho did with his slightly over-the-top cosmic spirituality.

If you’re interested in finally listening to some real American music, this could be a good choice for a starting point, and it’s certainly one of the best releases of this year in that department.

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