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Wednesday, April 25, 2007 03:44 am

John Fahey’s worthy successor

Glenn Jones shows why he has the most cred

Glenn Jones Against Which the Sea Continually Beats (Strange Attractors)
Untitled Document Of all the acoustic guitarists to glom on to the great John Fahey, Glenn Jones might have the most cred. He had the honor of actually collaborating with the late master, on 1996’s The Epiphany of Glenn Jones, and could claim him as a longtime friend. Jones, the leader of Cul de Sac, an instrumental avant-rock band from Boston, is no Johnny-come-lately. For more than 30 years he has been a disciple of the Takoma school, a tradition that emphasizes lyricism and exploration over hott lixx and theory-driven wankery. He has also ventured far outside the relatively cloistered acoustic-guitar scene, working with such disparate figures as cult director Roger Corman and former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki. In fact, Jones abstained from acoustica altogether for some 15 years, preferring to focus on his electric work instead; it wasn’t until 2001, the year of Fahey’s death, that he opted to unplug again. Against Which the Sea Continually Beats, like Jones’s first solo release, 2004’s This Is the Wind That Blows It Out, boasts a sound that is as graceful, variegated, and assured as its title is clumsy. A blend of Delta slide, country blues, British folk, and Indian-derived classical forms played on both six- and 12-string guitars, the album displays its creator’s impressive mastery of fingerstyle technique, his almost supernatural deftness in coaxing from his instrument a luxuriant array of melodies and textures. Jones favors open tunings and hacksaw-modified capos, which yield tonalities and harmonics that are at once familiar and strange. Throughout, compositional considerations always trump technical chops, considerable though they may be. Bookended by the languorous fragments “Island 1” and “Island 2” (the CD’s title was taken from an antique map of Martha’s Vineyard, where Jones and his longtime soundman/engineer Anthony Esposito recorded the album), the songs are uniformly tranquil without being tedious. “David and the Phoenix,” a dense, undulant vista of 12-string dazzle and drone, undergoes a series of dynamic variations in eight-plus minutes, but its transitions are so subtle, its movement so inexorable that listening to it is like being carried along on a river of molten bronze. “Little Dog’s Day,” an alternately merry and melancholy neotrad standout, reveals the influences of folk-blues icons Etta Baker and Elizabeth Cotton; the dreamy, often dissonant quasi-raga “The Teething Necklace” is an homage to Fahey. Both the pinging, madcap “Richard Nixon Orchid” and the Appalachian-inspired “Against My Ruin” showcase Jones’s virtuosic slide work, whereas the 12-string meditations “Cady” and “Freedom Raga” nimbly incorporate a handful of idioms. Although he would never presume to fill Fahey’s shoes, Jones proves himself a worthy successor with this rich, fiercely idiosyncratic record. The sixth solo outing from Kiwi indie-rock legend David Kilgour, The Far Now finds the founder of the Clean in an easygoing, reflective frame of mind. According to Kilgour, the new album was originally intended to be his “lysergic guitar heavy extravaganza”; instead, he hunkered down with his recently purchased Gibson acoustic and let the songs dictate his approach. The result is a mellow, mostly midtempo confection of burnished psych-pop and buzzing folk rock, a studiously nostalgic collection of songs with a wide-eyed, spontaneous feel. The intricately picked acoustic-guitar workout “The Sun of God” and the lovely, laid-back “I Cut My Heart Out Once” mesh surprisingly well with more ornate numbers, such as the countrified “On Your Own,” which whips strings, piano, and pedal-steel guitar into an incongruously pretty death march, and the synth-washed, distortion-pocked “I’m Gonna Get Better Lately,” which gets a lot of atmospheric mileage out of two oft-repeated sentences. Low-key has seldom sounded so high-concept.

Contact René Spencer Saller at rssaller@core.com.


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