Sixty years into its run as a genre (ill-defined as it may still be and relying on Fahey’s first recordings as a start), American Primitive guitar playing is experiencing a peak of sorts, with the current generation of players exploring both the breadth of the sound and the virtuosity of their own play. The movement has never been that coherent, with elements of folk and classical traditions, various emphases on melody and divergence between more or less mystic paths. One of the central elements of the field remains the guitarists’ ability to paint a scene; American Primitive may be more visual than many genres (without intending a synesthetic experience). Glenn Jones has been at the center of this scene for the last 15 or so years. His latest release, The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works for 6 & 12 String Guitar shows him working for a full collection of moods even while playing in a narrative manner.

“From Frederick to Fredericksburg,” despite a title that sounds like a Civil War memorial, fits Jones into the scene. Jones wrote the piece about a day spent with Jack Rose and Joe Bussard. The autobiographical details help shape the narrative of the track, which starts somewhere dark and gradually turns toward a more promising mood. The tones evoke the openness of parts of eastern Virginia (this music can’t possibly have actually driven on 495), but as it draws on recent experience, it feels ages older. American Primitive’s relatively recent birth seems odd given the ancient aura it can conjure, yet the structures and techniques are often more forward looking than they are indebted to history or, certainly, rustic folk or blues tradition.

The first half of the album is largely somber. The field recordings of “River in the Sky” avoid the bucolic in favor of decay. Jones’ light guitar additions sound genuinely urban, a bit of color in metropolitan night. After “Frederick,” though, Jones brightens up. “Even the Snout and the Tail” sounds chipper for a butchering tune, with Jones working a spry melody around simple atmospheric brushes. “Elliot Audrey Born Today” suggests joy as much with its bounce as it does with its titles, Jones’ right thumb more energetic here as his fingers rush to spread the news. “The Sunken Amusement Park,” for all its titular destruction, just beams. Apparently, Ferris wheels are even more fun underwater.

The early tracks on the album might have darker colors, but they’re no less expressive, with “Everything Ends” soundtracking a slow apocalypse from the Southwest, and “The Last Passenger Pigeon” turning anger more into desolation. The real highlight of the first half, though, comes with “The Giant Who Ate Himself,” where Jones plays with tones, feel, and dynamics. The central melody is catchy and offers enough variation to set up an album that will eschew a general concept in favor of seeking precise embodiments of isolated moods and experiences. Jones’ ability to weave variety through his big experience with skill and steadiness makes each of those moments meaningful not only on their own, but also as part of his bigger picture.

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One Comment

  1. Glenn Jones

    September 22, 2018 at 2:38 am

    Hello Justin, and thanks for this smart review! I appreciate your thoughtfulness ~~ cheers! Glenn Jones, Cambridge, MA

    Reply

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