Tag Archives: Fingerstyle

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 From the redolent moan of the title track to the withdrawn sigh of “Even to Win is to Fail” and from the gentle climb of the opener to the elliptical expanse of the 17-minute closer, Jones has made a record that twists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

Review : Cian Nugent “Doubles” LP/CD (VHF Records, 2011)

cian_DoublesI first became aware of Dubliner Cian Nugent when his solo guitar contributions to Imaginational Anthem Volume Three and We Are All One, in the Sun: Tribute to Robbie Basho appeared in back-to-back years.¹  Both recordings evidence clean, confident playing and command of the freeform, open-tuned style that continues to prevail in today’s acoustic guitar underground.  Cian’s debut album, Doubles, was released earlier this year by VHF Records, joining a recent string of excellent guitar-oriented albums issued by the label, including Jesse Sparhawk & Eric Carbonara’s Sixty Strings and Alexander Turnquist’s Hallway of Mirrors.

One cannot help but ponder the meaning of the album’s title, “doubles.”  Simply stated, it is a symmetrical work, in that it pairs together two side-long pieces that mirror one another structurally and musically.  On both sides, series of improvised passages comprise two primary movements that repeat, resulting in a loose, “ABAB” form. Additionally, for each work Nugent establishes a vocabulary of intervals and melodic phrases built from adjacent tones and half-tones.  The resulting “duplicitous” voicings provide the album’s primary musical themes as well as the constant sensation of push and pull. I could go on!  Let’s just say the “doubles” motif gives the work a dimension beyond pure emotion, which I found somewhat unique for a freeform guitar album. Continue reading

Review : James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg “Avos” LP/MP3 (Tompkins Square, 2011)

AvosLife is full of funny coincidences, isn’t it?  Exactly a decade ago, I was playing guitar in The Higher Burning Fire, something of a chamber-pop group that (by my influence) dabbled with folky and fingerpicked guitar patterns.  In the middle of a full-band relocation from Kansas to New York City, I received an interesting phone call from our drummer, already in the Big Apple – “I met this guy, he’s really cool, he’s gotta be in the band…  you’ll love him, he plays just like you!”  My excitable drummer must have somehow forgotten that I also played just like me, and that I was but one of the three more-than-competent guitarists in our band… a fourth guitarist?  Did it really matter what he played like?  His mind was made up, though, and I took the whole thing as a sign that maybe I didn’t want to carry on with the band any more.  “They’ll be fine, no shortage of guitarists there!” They did the New York thing (for a little over a year) and I found my way up to Boston.

Can you tell where I’m going with this?  That mysterious fourth guitarist was none other than Nathan Salsburg, freshly arrived to NYC from Louisville and working for The Alan Lomax Archives, a post that he holds to this day.  When I went back to New York a little while later to see what my former band mates had been making of themselves in their adopted home, I found Nathan to be not only a great guitarist but a sweet guy as well, and we hit it off talking about Bert Jansch and Scott Walker.

Fast forward about seven years… the band had long broken up and gone our separate ways, and I had devoted myself almost exclusively to acoustic guitar music.  I picked up the fantastic third volume in Tompkin Square’s Imaginational Anthem series and saw who else but Nathan listed among the artists on the back of the disc.  His standout track “Bold Ruler’s Joys” was not only one of the disc’s (and series’) highlights, but was one of the most compelling and confident acoustic instrumentals that I’d heard from any of the current generation of young fingerpickers.  Nathan didn’t play “just like me” at all, he was worlds better, in a league of his own!  I quickly got a message to the man, and we started keeping in touch regularly.

Over the last couple of years, Nathan has been sending me some of his works-in-progress, mostly next-level fingerstyle jams named after race horses… for he has moved back to his native Louisville, and the Kentucky Derby is like the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras combined down there!  Last year, I began hearing from Nathan about another project, a guitar duet record involving a guy named Jim from Chicago.  Jim turned out to be James Elkington, of The Zincs and The Horses Ha, who also turned out (by yet another coincidence) to be the drummer for Brokeback, a Chicago group led by the legendary Doug McCombs (he of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day). I’ve shared a bill with Doug many times in the last few years, since he and my duet partner Dave are old friends from Dave’s Chicago days. It’s a small, small musical world folks, and it’s only getting smaller… but this back story and all its little coincidences could not have led to a more exciting moment, and now I have the great pleasure to review James’ and Nathan’s stellar debut Avos. 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