Glenn Jones - My Garden State - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Glenn Jones - My Garden State

by Amy Putman Rating:8.5 Release Date:2013-05-13

The other day I watched as, one-by-one, parking inspectors flocked across the street. Who knows what strange force drew them together to coagulate, chattering and cackling with laughter, but gather they did, circling around a lamp post and blocking up the pavement so that unfortunate schoolchildren had to squeeze past them on the curb. I started idly wondering what such a herd would be called. There are many groups that have unique names: a murder of crows; a shrewdness of apes; a flange of baboons; a mutation of thrush; a pitying of turtle doves; a battery of barracudas; a knob of game birds; a flutter of butterflies; a lap of cod; a concern of councillors... you get the point.

At first I thought, grimly, that perhaps a bastard of parking inspectors would be suitable. They must get called that individually at least 10 times a day. Then I felt bad. I mean, they are only doing their job and probably don't deliberately aggravate. I almost awarded them a neutral noun... And then I remembered the times they'd crossed me and I got mad, people, mad!

After quite a lot more time-wasting pondering I eventually settled on the word 'git'. It's not as harsh as to suggest they are evil through-and-through, and certainly not bad enough to get sworn at all day, every day. I'm sure they have friends and families juts like normal folk. At the same time, it implies the gentle malevolence they are driven to; the irritation and the way they irritate; the thinly pursed lips and stubborn refusal to budge. Git. So I introduce you to the newly-coined apposite word. Henceforth shall the phrase ever be "a git of parking inspectors", though I hope they shall be few and far between.

'Git' is quite an old-fashioned word. Not by any means obsolete, it has been depleted by the years and advanced swearing so that it is no longer a harsh insult but rather a term for a sort of resentful affection. It's not as bad as 'dick' but grumpier than 'sod'. It's for when you recognise that someone's not entirely in the wrong, or perhaps are a functional member of your society, but right now you feel bitterness and disgruntlement towards them. You wouldn't hate them in the abstract, but right now they're in your way. Though nowadays 'dick' and 'wanker' are being downgraded to almost the same. You have to not just call someone a 'cunt' but a 'proper cunt' to get your point across. Such is progress, but it would be a shame if 'git' disappeared from use; I'm rather fond of it.

In a similar way, I am virtually ecstatic that Glenn Jones is ensuring that traditional American music isn't dying out in the mainstream. I know there have always been records out there, but they have been a long way from fashionable and sometimes hard to get hold of. I've always had a soft spot for the banjo. I'm not sure why since I only heard one in the flesh a couple of years ago. Maybe it's the complexities of my inner-ear leading to an arbitrary preference, or maybe I watched too many westerns as a child. Either way, I like it, and I especially like this album.

When I first whacked this album on, I was expecting to listen to it a couple of times and then settle down to writing, like I usually do. Instead, I listened to it three times in a row and still wanted more. It may be American primitivism, but there is nothing old-timey about Glenn Jones' music. It's nostalgic and pared-down but woven with a delicately contemporary hand. It is not gentle but lilting, with an insistence on deep, hidden emotion.

Basic in components but intricate in finish, this album proves that sometimes the simplest things are the most effective. It's like watching someone crochet; you see how pared down the elements are but somehow it turns to witchcraft and beauty in their hands. The great thing about this offering is that it's not just an album but a place; and it's a place you half-recognise.

The combination of tracks incites deja vu and exploration in equal measure, like your brain remembers some of the allusions but can't put it's lobey finger on the exact origin. This is rooted music, capturing the atmosphere of where the genre was born. Its origins are bared and exalted: you can hear the heat; the solitude; the raw wood dried in the dust and peeling; the crickets; the vast vistas stretching away forever from every angle, begging to be explored.

In 'Chimes', Jones literally captures the scene with a brief recording of an empty garden space, implying the pastoral nature of this quiet, unassuming, honest music. It is an excellent introduction which gently eases the ears from the hectic modern society into a new world view. It allows you to embrace the promise of another way; a way that keeps the up-to-date attitudes while backtracking style to its bones.

Simple refrains combine to create the banjo sonatas that tickle their way through moods and colours. You could see the album as a soft, string-plucking symphony for people who love walking through corn, apple moonshine and lingering sunsets. You can hear the detachment from city life, if not a direct rejection of it.

The nuances of his skilled finger-play imply all the solitude, peace, forced companionability and tigh- knit family societies of country life. The thing is, it's just as relevant for those among us who want a sense of tribe in town life. People who yearn to know people thoroughly, to eat together and work together and build something deeper than the grabby rat race, to have a spot of calm and laughter in the midst of the fuming bustle.

I cannot wait for his next album already. He has made me greedy for his rare vibe with his well-judged composition and endless skill. You can hear the dexterity but it sounds casual and without boast or demand. I can't imagine Glenn Jones setting out to be a star - he simply loves what he does and practices without resentment or pushiness because he wants to and he feels the music - but it is exactly this calm devotion and clear sight that will make him a star. He's the next Leonard Cohen; a new dart into history for a new generation. Folk has become twee, nasal and trite. This is the way.

For me, this album sped me back into my youth somehow, even though there were no banjos involved in my actual life. The quality reeked of my bumpkin upbringing in the depths of the countryside and made me ache for a return to fields. The thing is that, as I have said, Jones leaves it wide open for interpretation. Everyone will be transported to a different place and time, some real, some imaginary. The point is that nobody could fail to enjoy it.

This genre buys into the mythos of the old America that everyone who has ever seen a Hollywood film or read an American novel longs for. It is a dream that is at the core of developed society; we can't help it. All nations are culturally drip-fed by the USA these days and it has subconsciously warped everyone's deepest desire, regardless of actual culture.

That's why you have line-dancing Koreans and Swedish cowboys; cola-drinking Indians and Brits calling each other 'honey' or 'babe'. What Jones does is tap into that association and want, reducing it back to the historical, rooted experience of small-town communities. This implies the ultimate American love; the notion of the idyllic pre-Civil War era of exploration, individualism, bonded communities, and creation; the start of glory and the golden myth that everyone wants to return to, right in their core.

Jones strips the mockery and trappings of the false, fast contemporary lifestyle away, revealing instead the tones of gentle beauty which form the foundation upon which all else rests. He takes the dewdrop of purest creative blood and metamorphoses it in the cup of his palm and the crook of his arms so that a complete beast is born, easily straddling the gap between then and now, neither one nor the other, yet somehow both. I'm buying into it wholeheartedly; a world in which parking inspectors are no longer needed is a happier world in my book.

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