glenn-jones-my-garden-state1[xrr rating=3.0/5]Guitarist Glenn Jones conveys emotion and energy in his music the way some of the best rock drones do, relying on a knack for structure and tastefully conveyed technical prowess. His instrumentals are of the “Takoma” variety – the school of finger-plucked guitar most associated with John Fahey and American Primitive folk that includes artists like Jack Rose – but his take integrates notes of jazz, Appalachian ramblings and hints of world-music inspiration from all over the map. When his work succeeds, virtuosity makes it attention-grabbing enough to notice that inspired craftsmanship, the kind that Jones’ past solo records sometimes lost to plucked kitsch or songs that could be taken too readily for background music.

Glancing over the track listing of Glenn Jones’s new record, My Garden State, song titles like “Going Back to East Montgomery,” “Alcouer Gardens” and “Bergen County Farewell” imply that these new recordings are deeply personal, referring to Jones’s own experiences in the state where he grew up. While he’s more widely associated with the Boston area and the instrumental crew Cul de Sac, Jones often returns to his family home to take care of his mother, and he composed My Garden State – emphasis on the My – during some of those visits. That’s reflected in these songs’ titles; Alcouer Gardens is the nursing facility where his mother lives and closer “Bergen County Farewell” was written after selling the family home. It’s difficult to read into these songs more than that, as instrumental guitar (even combined with banjo on a few tracks) can ultimately only tell a story limited to sonic density, texture and mood, but knowing why Jones conjured up these songs makes them a much more heady experience.

Gently opening and closing with the sound of wind chimes, Jones winds expertly thru eight tracks, many featuring alternate tunings and experimentally capoed acoustic guitars that he details in the liner notes for curious listeners. Laura and Meg Baird match Jones on two tracks, expanding the otherwise focused, intriguingly claustrophobic sound of one guitarist recorded in a New Jersey farmhouse, but still parallel his syncopated lines with exacting finesse. The sounds of evening rain and thunder lends “Alcouer Gardens” a weight to anchor its pensive melody, but My Garden State is otherwise an opportunity for Jones to play unencumbered by obvious collaborators, production or additional sounds. At times these songs can feel a bit frail, like this genre often does, but it’s difficult to imagine them bettered by additions of any sort.

That quality might not be the case if the focused clarity of Jones’ playing wasn’t so rewarding. “Going Back to East Montgomery” and “Like a Sick Eagle Looking at the Sky” both stretch a single melody over eight minutes of slight variation, pulling a subtle refrain slightly off course before meandering back to the surest path. The meditative feel of the title track’s minor-key banjo lines is a mid-album weigh-point, and opener “Across the Tappan Zee” weaves delicate little rapids into a tune befitting a pastoral creek, even if the Tappan Zee Bridge crosses the Hudson. The style of these songs range from patiently paced to lurching tangles, moving from one to another in a sequencing that benefits each track, and Jones sounds completely assured in his playing. Whatever these songs mean to him, they stand on their own regardless.

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