Album review: Glenn Jones – The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works for 6 & 12 String Guitar (Thrill Jockey)

This album caught my eye because of a 1997 release by one the all time greats of acoustic guitar, John Fahey. The Ephiphany of Glenn Jones was made by Fahey with Jones’ band Cul de Sac but released under Fahey’s name presumably because it made commercial sense. The instrumental nature of that album didn’t make it clear exactly what Jones’ epiphany consisted of but he has continued to make music in the American Primitive, finger picked style since that time. The work that Jones released with Cul de Sac combined acoustic and electric guitars with electronics and noise, it was dubbed post rock in some quarters, a label that Jones railed against, it’s origin possibly being that the band hailed from Chicago, home of original post rockers Tortoise.

Today Jones inhabits a largely acoustic world and plays as the title suggests six and 12 string acoustic guitars with steel strings using a finger picking style that was developed by blues musicians in the early part of the twentieth century. It is powerful and evocative in equal measure, Jones uses the full dynamic range of the instrument and frequently sounds like there are two guitars being played, whether or not this is the case isn’t clear but the results are very engaging. The fact that Jones plays live a lot would suggest that he has the skill to play everything at one time and of course a 12-string guitar has so much resonance that it can sound like two instruments with relative ease. The opening and title track is one such, it has some strange sounds on it that are not electronic and presumably come from a guitar, but these are secondary to the vibrancy and openness of heart in the tune. Jones’ live playing is frequently preceded with stories that inspired the tunes, a process that would give them specific meaning. But you can let your imagination fill in the lyrical aspect of each tune, it’s the sort of music that leaves space for that sort of thing.

The minor key of Everything Ends makes it a sad beauty, the playing on this album is largely positive and upbeat but you can’t beat a miserable tune to make a connection with the player. The Last Passenger Pigeon takes a more varied path with a high energy and meaty first half that has lots of drive on the 12-string, but it takes a left fork about halfway through its seven plus minutes and slows the tempo, perhaps to indicate the demise of the bird in question. A Different Kind of Christmas Carol is indeed not obviously yule powered, it’s a bit darker than that but does bring in some sleigh bells at the end. River in the Sky is the nearest thing to a Cul de Sac track with ambient sounds of crickets and a plane in the sky before some lovely slide playing swoops in.

This extensively titled and great sounding album is a wonderful introduction to finger picked guitar and Jones himself, his epiphany may well have been the realisation that this was the way to go, it seems to have been the right choice.

Jason Kennedy
@EditorTheEar

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