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Interview : C Joynes

NJD: The first thing I always notice when I open a new C Joynes album is that it always looks like a very personal art concept on your records.

CJ: Yeah, definitely. It’s one of the things that I’ve always really enjoyed. For me it’s always been part of the whole process – it’s included artwork and design and all of that sort of thing. I’ve always really liked albums that are put together and presented in a way where it looks like a hermetically sealed concept – where it’s stuff that’s been produced by one person or a very limited group of people. For example, all the self-released Sun Ra albums, I just love the artwork and graphics on those. Also the stuff that Billy Childish put out when he was self-releasing his own stuff. So right from the get go that’s always, I don’t know how essential it is to the music but it’s all part of the process of putting together an album.

NJD: Is this album called Congo because that’s somewhere that you’ve visited?

No. There’s a statue that appears on the cover of the album, and the statue was christened Congo. It was given to me as a gift when I was in Kenya. The little statue does actually come from the Congo and he’s been sitting on top of the right hand speaker of my hi-fi system all the way through the mixing process. There’s a little sphinx that someone gave my wife as a gift on the left hand channel and Congo on the right hand channel, and the pair have been kind of like the totems for this album, kind of overseeing the whole thing. It’s got something about it, a real personality. I’m always a little bit suspicious about “concepts”, but it’s definitely contributed to what I see as an underlying theme to this album. It’s the notion of this very distinctive totem that has come from a very different and very unusual part of the world and ended up in this little cottage outside of Cambridge. If there is a concept it’s about the exotic in a small, domestic traditional English setting – the kind of clash of cultures that’s going on there. Continue reading

Grayson Currin Interviews Glenn Jones

 

glennjones

This interview originally appeared on Pitchfork.  Reprinted with permission.

As best as he can remember, Glenn Jones has been playing guitar since 1967, when he was 14 years old. Despite four decades spent behind six strings, though, he still talks about the instrument like an infinite terrain– not only for himself but also for the current crop of new, young guitarists following the sounds of his calloused fingertips. He discovers and sometimes discards new tunings almost constantly, and his best tunes sport the sense that they were considered and carved with the diligence and patience of some elaborate wooden trinket.

“It was a gradual process that came from a lot of time and hours and weeks and months and years playing guitar alone and being alone,” says Jones. “Eventually, it’s to say this is mine.”

The Wanting, Jones’ first full-length album for Thrill Jockey, is a collection of tunes for banjo and guitar that explores dozens of different ideas within its hour run-time. From the redolent moan of the title track to the withdrawn sigh of “Even to Win is to Fail” and from the gentle climb of the opener to the elliptical expanse of the 17-minute closer, Jones has made a record that twists and turns through both feelings and techniques, impressing even as it empathizes.

Pitchfork: Even more so than with your previous records, I was immediately taken by The Wanting. I kept needing to hear it. For you, what’s different on this record than your other LPs?

Glenn Jones: I’m not sure if it felt that different going into it. I’m not a fast writer. It takes me about two years to write enough material for an album. Generally, that two-year period is just a reflection of where I’ve been during that time, new tunings I’ve uncovered, and how I’ve navigated the twain of those particular tunings. The only thing that feels different about this one is that I spent more time with the banjo in the past two years than I had going into Barbecue Bob in Fishtown, which had a couple of banjo pieces. Also, the duet I recorded with Chris Corsano is a little bit of a departure, at least for my solo guitar records. It’s not so unusual maybe to Cul de Sac fans. That may be the extent of what I think is different. People tend to look for new directions, and I’m not sure if there is a marked new direction rather than a further exploration of what I’ve always been interested in. Continue reading

Guitar Honeymoon Through The South

Though my lovely wife Minette and I got married all the way back in May, we’ve both been pretty swamped with work ever since, and the idea of a decent honeymoon has been on the back-burner.  Well, that all ended this week, as we filled up our tank and decided to take a scenic drive through the south!  We didn’t do all that much pre-planning, figuring that we would just set up a few hotels along the way, and do whatever struck our fancy on any given day… but knowing that we were going to be spending a little time in both Asheville NC and Nashville TN, I made sure to have a few fine guitar stores on my mental list of places to visit, and they did not disappoint.  WARNING : if you’re not interested in some pretty subjective ideas about sound and a lot of out-and-out minutia concerning some positively lovely acoustic guitars, you’ve probably already read too much… things are about to get long and geeky! I’ll also take this moment to point out that for every minute I spent looking at guitars, Minette probably spent five in thrift stores and boutiques shopping for unique and vintage articles of clothing… so everybody came away happy!

About twenty minutes outside of Asheville, nestled inconspicuously along a residential country road sits Dream Guitars, a unique appointment-only showroom and internet store owned and operated by Paul Heumiller.  Paul started the company a while back with none other than world-renowned fingerstylist Martin Simpson, and both men know more than a little bit about fine acoustic guitars.  There are few places in the world where so many unique hand-built and small shop guitars are available to play, and I tried my best to take it all in… though it wasn’t easy!  In 90 minutes I played just a handful of instruments, each one just as beautiful as the last, and each with its own particular set of aesthetic and tonal strengths… and though I’ll admit it definitely feels a little haughty to pick apart any of these guitars, as a longtime fan of the instrument, I had no choice but to follow my ears, and these are some of my thoughts. Continue reading

Interview : David Surette

davidsurette3Earlier this year, Work & Worry received a CD from David Surette, a fantastic instrumentalist and songwriter who resides up in Maine. Surette is my kind of picker : equal parts British folk revival, country blues, ragtime and traditional… well, that’s not totally true, his playing at times actually leans a little bit more to the British school than most American fingerpickers, which I guess is what I really love about it!

The performances on Sun Dog, all done in a single evening on a single microphone, are absolutely impeccable. All eight tracks feature clean, confident picking and a finely honed sense of composition, structure and ornamentation. It’s the kind of accomplished, out of nowhere record that is not only a joy to listen to, but makes a guitarist want to up his or her game… from the John Renbourn-esque “A Lot of Sir John” and “Cold Rain” to the feel-good raggin’ blues of “Frog’s Legs” and “Ukelele Stomp”,  Sun Dog is easily one of the best guitar recordings I’ve heard in a long time.

Surette’s liner notes on the CD do a fine job of describing the inception of these songs, and he also denotes the tunings… so I wanted to talk to Surette more about some of his perspectives on guitars, playing, and some of his influences.

W&W : Calling David Surette.. David, are you there?

Hey man, how’s it going?

W&W : Very well, how are you?

Good, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

W&W : Let’s talk about where you are and where you’ve been. You seem to have extremely strong ties to the music scene up in Maine… have you always lived in that part of the world? Where were you when your interest in guitar first developed, and what did you concentrate on when you were first starting out?

Well, I grew up in northern New Hampshire in the mountains, North Conway, which is right on the border with Maine. So I’ve always been a NH/ME kind of guy. I moved down to this area when I was going to college at UNH, from ’81-’85, and ended up sticking around. There’s a good local music scene here, and it’s close to a lot of other great spots, like Boston and Portland.

I started to play guitar when I was 14, and I’m 47 now.  I started out on electric and acoustic, mostly ’60s-’70s rock. I loved blues-rock, too, and rootsy stuff like The Dead, The Band, The Allmans, so I got into the blues and folk stuff that way, like checking out this guy Robert Johnson that the Stones were covering. I’m probably like a lot of other folks in that regard. I got into fingerpicking in college. Continue reading

John Renbourn Tackles Satie’s “Sarabande”

Renbourn_70sJohn Renbourn is a wonder. His recording career began in England during the mid-sixties, just as the late Davey Graham was blazing new trails with the acoustic guitar.  John followed Davey’s lead, performing on his early Transatlantic albums with a sense of abandon, cleverly weaving together musical styles and traditions from around the globe. Over time, Renbourn’s playing became more measured but also increasingly detailed, sometimes blurring the line where folk music ends and classical music begins.  While his discography features a wide variety of modes and collaborations, his solo albums from the late seventies, The Hermit and The Black Balloon in particular, feature expansive long-form guitar instrumentals that are among his most ambitious and best works.  The latest album, Palermo Snow (Shanachie Records, 2010) belongs to that lineage… I was excited to discover it included an arrangement of Erik Satie’s “Sarabande,”¹ as I’ve been absorbed in Satie’s music recently and, more importantly, imagined that interpreting it would be an interesting change of pace for Renbourn.

Satie’s piano compositions are generally regarded as precursors to ambient music, which he referred to as musique d’ameublement, or “furniture music.” Their quality is atmospheric, repetitive, slightly dissonant.  Satie is identified with the avant-garde for his later associations with Dada, though his early compositions are often referred to as “impressionist.”  The series of three “Sarabandes,” introduced in 1887, just a year prior to his best known work, the “Gymnopédies,” indeed have a drifting, romantic quality.  Here is the late French pianist’s Jacques Février’s rendition of Satie’s “Sarabande No.1”²:

A “sarabande” is a dance in triple meter.  From what I’ve gathered, it was developed in Spanish colonies in the sixteenth century and later banned in Spain for its sexual undertones.  The dance was revived and commonly used as movement within a suite during the Baroque period, when the German music theorist, Johann Matthesson, declared that it “expresses no passion other than ambition.”³ It’s easy to imagine how the peculiar reputation and history of this dance would appeal to Satie, whose sense of humor is well documented.  One even wonders if the circularity of his “Sarabandes” was intended to be satirical. Interestingly, John Renbourn included an electric guitar rendition of a Bach “Sarabande” on his fourth album, The Lady and the Unicorn.  Despite the heavy vibrato effect, it sounds more formal than Satie’s “Sarabandes,” and I suspect provides a better sense of a typical, Baroque version of the dance:

Adapting ambient music to the guitar provides one with an opportunity to obsess over each individual note or chord; to allow the overtones that occur during sustain, as well as fret and room noise, to become the “detail” of the piece.  The timbre of steel string guitar seems particularly well-suited to the task, especially compared with classical guitar.  Solo fingerstyle guitar music, by contrast, is a show of dexterity, where bass and melody lines interact in a complex, sometimes dizzying manner. Renbourn is regarded as a master of fingerstyle form, and would seem to reside in a different ballpark from the ambient musician.  I know from my own attempts to feather ambient pieces into a fingerstyle repertoire that the adjustment in mindset is not easy to manage in one sitting.  Not to suggest that John Renbourn is uninterested in tonality, it seems reasonable to point out that the opportunities for him to really fuss over it have been somewhat scarce in his music.  I can’t think of many examples from his recorded works that resemble Satie’s music, save perhaps the duet rendition of the Charles Mingus’ “Theme from The Shoes Of The Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers” with Stefan Grossman, which has impressionistic qualities.

Renbourn’s take on Satie’s “Sarabande” is similar in tempo to the Février example.  However, one gets the sensation, especially early on in the recording, that he feels slightly impatient and is struggling to lock in with the odd cadences of the piece:

In fact, it’s the sense of struggle that I find most appealing about this performance.  The voicings he selected for the arrangement also have a mundane quality that I think befits the piece.  If there’s one flaw, it would be the heavy handed use of artificial reverb on the recording, which I think obscures rather than flatters some of the details of John’s performance.  Nonetheless, I find it encouraging that this revered guitar player, who has accomplished so much with the instrument, was willing to venture into potentially uncomfortable musical territory to expand his boundaries, if even only slightly.  While this article focused only on one track, Palermo Snow is a certainly multi-faceted album worthy of celebration by guitar music fans.

¹ Renbourn’s arrangement is of Satie’s “Sarabande No. 1”
² from Piano Music of Erik Satie (Remastered, 2011)
³ from Der Vollkommene Capellmeister (1739)