In the avant-rock band Cul de Sac, guitarist Glenn Jones and his bandmates combine fingerstyle electric guitar, krautrock rhythms and harsh electronics, creating a challenging, textured sound that defies categorization. In 1997, the group famously collaborated with acoustic guitar icon John Fahey and released the album The Epiphany of Glenn Jones. Now, over a decade later, comes the third solo outing from Jones, and on Barbecue Bob in Fishtown the spirit of John Fahey and his American Primitive approach is alive and well.
Though his band is known for their experimental leanings, Glenn Jones the solo artist is considered something of a traditionalist, and the Barbecue Bob… package is very much presented in the grand tradition of instrumental acoustic guitar collections of years past. From the light-hearted cover image and the eloquent, self-penned liner notes to the tuning references and instrument notes for each song, the art direction has a classic feel… the album could pass as an artifact from any point in the last 40 years. When the included booklet is flipped over and reversed, we’re treated to a photo-diary of Jones paying a visit to Belmont Nails, for what appears to be an application of fresh acrylics. All of this is the kind of stuff that guitar geeks eat up, myself included!
Well, as everyone knows, the best compliment to great packaging is great music (to listen to while staring at the great packaging, of course!) and on Barbecue Bob in Fishtown, Jones delivers some fine picking indeed. The album kicks off with the upbeat alternating bass of the title track, the bends and rolls evoking both Fahey and some of the modern purveyors of his style, such as Nick Schillace and Jack Rose. Jones’ style immediately stands apart from those players in its more relaxed attack, never quite approaching the tidiness of Schillace or the determined physicality of Rose. I find the easy, slightly ragged character of Jones’ picking to be very charming, particularly on “Barbecue Bob…”, “Dead Reckoning” and album closer “A Geranium For Mano-a-Mano”.
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Glenn Jones – “A Geranium For Mano-a-Mano”
There are two brief banjo pieces on the album, and both are compelling listens. Mood and tempo-wise, “Keep It A Hundred Years” and “A Lark In Earnest” are very similar, a possible product of Jones’ relative newness to the instrument… but in spite of this, his knack for composition wins out, and the banjo songs stand up as some of the most melodically driven on the album. “Keep It…” contains some unexpected chord changes, keeping it interesting and unpredictable, while “Lark…” benefits from a simple, memorable melodic theme and some very nice finger-rolls.
“1337 Shattuck Avenue, Apartment D”, Jones’ tribute to Robbie Basho, is one of the most emotive tracks on the disc, and also its longest. In the liner notes, Jones explains that this loosely structured composition was one of many takes, and was chosen for its “uncertain” feel. There is definitely a palpable degree of uncertainty in the playing, with many of the notes fretting out around the 4 1/2-minute mark as Jones begins descending into dark, dissonant territory. Still, the emotional thread that runs through the song, coupled with the variety of the sections, keeps the listener wholly invested.
My favorite song on the album is “For Wendy, In Her Girlish Days”. This selection contains some of Jones’ most delicate and beautiful playing, and its primary theme is a nice hybrid of Leo Kottke-style alternating bass and chord voicings, supporting a vaguely British-tinged melodic approach.
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Glenn Jones – “For Wenday In Her Girlish Days”
Glenn Jones is something of a staple in the current solo acoustic guitar movement, and Barbecue Bob in Fishtown makes a great case for why that is. Jones’ playing shows him to be a guitarist with a distinctive touch, an experienced player with a pleasing affection for traditional picking as well as a flare for varied and innovative composition.