I’ve never been too excited by the inarguably impressive work done by the late, legendary guitarist John Fahey, for any number of not very good reasons, most prominent among them my aversion to twanginess. Some of the twanginess I hear in Fahey’s guitar-playing—which can seem brittle and unforgiving to my ears—is simply part and parcel of his so-called “American Primitive” style, but some of it has also to do with older recording limitations. This may explain why I feel more attached to the Fahey-inspired work of Leo Kottke—his recordings, especially beginning in the later ’80s, are suffused with a warmth (not to mention humor) that I haven’t discerned in Fahey.
Which brings us to Glenn Jones, whose “Bergen County Farewell” is as rich and warm as a finger-picked Fahey-esque song is ever likely to be. Brisk without feeling rushed, dynamic without any ostentation, “Bergen County Farewell” covers its bittersweet core with a jolly-ish skin—melodies skirt up through the bright and kindly higher strings but always fall downward towards the buttery lower strings. Jones’s impeccable preciseness is tempered by a lovely touch with what I think are called “rolls”—when the fingers are playing a chord, but in a slightly staggered fashion (simple examples at 0:22, 0:31, 0:34, et al; more complicated instances at 1:43, 1:54, and 2:37 among others). The song alternates two basic tunes, each of which offers up one musical twist (tune one: 0:14; tune two: 0:52), and each of which leads into the same resolution (first heard at 0:21). This “resolution” section feels much less like a chorus than a closing out of a musical thought, and is a lovely thing an instrumental can do that a song with lyrics maybe can’t.
“Bergen County Farewell” is a song from Jones’s new album, My Garden State, which was written under somewhat unusual circumstances. Jones’s aging mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and he and his older sister began taking turns caring for her for a few months at a time, in the house the family had moved into in Bergen County, New Jersey back in 1966. Jones wrote the songs that became My Garden State while taking his caretaker turn. He has said that he sees the album as “a corrective to Bruce Springsteen’s Jersey”—a musical vision of beauty and serenity which does not at all resemble the image many people have of the Garden State. The album is Jones’s fifth solo release, following seven studio albums released with the instrumental band Cul de Sac (one of which, 1997’s The Epiphany of Glenn Jones, was recorded with John Fahey himself).
My Garden State was released last month on Thrill Jockey Records. Thanks to
Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.