Glenn Jones - My Garden State [FLAC] (Size: 202.2 MB)
Release: My Garden State
Label: Thrill Jockey
Catalog#: Thrill 326
Format: FLAC / Lossless / Log (100%) / Cue
Style: folk, instrumental
2. Across the Tappan Zee
3. Going Back to East Montgomery
4. Blues For Tom Carter
5. The Vernal Pool
6. Alcoeur Gardens
7. My Garden State
8. Like a Sick Eagle Looking At the Sky
9. Bergen County Farewell
10. Chimes II
Glenn Jones turns a trick with the title of his fifth album for solo acoustic guitar and banjo, My Garden State. Jones is known best as a Boston musician, having led the city’s art-rock updaters Cul de Sac through the 1990s and having alluded to his adopted hometown with the names and anecdotes of several cuts on previous records. But Jones grew up in northern New Jersey. During the last several years, he’s often returned to his childhood home for extended periods to take care of his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. The bulk of My Garden State was written during these eldercare furloughs, prompting Jones to take the thematically logical step of recording the tunes in New Jersey, too, 60 miles or so south at the farmhouse of friend and collaborator Laura Baird.
But this wistful 10-tune set is called My Garden State, not The Garden State, a clever way for Jones to sidestep songs about New Jersey so as to offer his experience with discovery, love, and loss within the state itself. Sure, the names of several numbers reference specific area locales-- the Tappan Zee Bridge that spans the Hudson River, the teeming county where Jones grew up, the nursing home where his mother now lives-- but these are places that have meant something to Jones. There is no ode to the Boardwalk, no observations on the state’s industrial cornucopia, and no interpolation of “Where Eagles Dare”. Instead, these songs are intensely personal reflections on the cycle of life as he’s seen it here. “The Vernal Pool”, for instance, is an improvisation Jones played shortly after Baird showed him the farm habitat of spadefoot toads, which use the “spades” of their feet to dig into their subterranean lairs for a season’s rest. When it rains in the spring, they dig their way out and become “explosive breeders.” Jones saw the toads in the fall, when they still lurked underground. This piece starts with listless hibernation, his slow notes languishing inside their own decay. Across its five minutes, though, it builds into a bustle, with a thumbed bass line muscling its way through a raga-like flurry of sound. Even at its most vibrant and vivid, “The Vernal Pool” reveals a constant vein of anxiety, as if to acknowledge at once the world’s forever-chained wonder and worry while celebrating it, too.
Indeed, My Garden State is defined by its sincerely bittersweet sense, where Jones never seems too mournful of or sentimental for the past nor overly naïve for some idealized future. Jones’ work isn’t emotionally conflicted; it’s simply emotionally honest, with his fingers doling out lessons as he’s learned them. These instrumentals seem to acknowledge Jones’ feelings as they are-- mixed and confusing and sometimes overwhelming, with the sweetness of childhood memories tempered by the exigencies of the present and the uncertainty of what’s ahead. “Bergen County Farewell”, written after Jones and his sisters had finally sold the family home, sublimates nostalgia into optimism and back again. Its darting melody is bright and cheery, but there’s sadness tucked between the notes, too, like a worried mind behind a well-intentioned smile. “Blues for Tom Carter”, ostensibly written for Jones’ fellow guitar traveler after the Charalambides co-founder fell seriously ill while on tour last year, doesn’t dip into full-lament mode as its title might suggest; rather, it feels like an affable Sunday afternoon phone call to an old friend, as though Jones is simply checking in to make sure everything is OK. You can imagine Carter making a wisecrack on the other end of the line.
Both of the album’s guitar extended guitar marvels-- the eight-minute duet with Meg Baird, “Going Back to East Montgomery”, and the slightly shorter “Like a Sick Eagle Looking at the Sky”-- thrive on such emotional imbalance. They’re both relatively warm and welcoming tunes; in fact, when Baird’s guitar joins Jones’ for the refrain, it’s possible to picture day breaking to the sound of the strings’ bright harmonies. For most of the piece, though, Jones simply winds back and forth through one lithe melody, a reminder that any “sweet shot of joy,” as he calls Baird’s playing in the liner notes, matters most because of the humdrum toil it interrupts. “Sick Eagle” is more dimly lit, but Jones lifts the melody at just the right moments, offering a sudden horizon of hopefulness.