Stone Jack Jones submerges his music in stasis throughout his new full-length, Ancestor, but that doesn't mean it's not rock 'n' roll. Employing a series of simple guitar riffs that repeat underneath keyboard textures and snippets of found sound, the Nashville singer-songwriter creates music that glances back at country and Americana. Ancestor continues the approach of such Nashville bands as Lambchop and Altered Statesman — the record seems rooted in the pastoral, but Music City's unique tangle of pop, country and rock cross-references creates mixed signals, and Jones applies avant-garde techniques to songs that sound as if he composed them over a campfire. Ancestor is disquieting music, and authentic rock 'n' roll.
Recorded in Nashville with producer Roger Moutenot, Ancestor moves at its own slow, steady pace. With basic tracks that usually include Jones and Lambchop member Ryan Norris' guitars along with Lylas leader Kyle Hamlett's banjo, the record subverts conventions of rhythm-section playing and song form even as it suggests a fusion of Brian Eno's Before and After Science and Lee Hazlewood. Accompanied by an acoustic guitar, Jones' songs would be equally effective, but Moutenout's canny production turns the material into half-overheard, inconclusive tone poems.
Stone Jack Jones was born Herbert Jones III in Logan, W. Va., on Nov. 17, 1948, and spent time working in the theater and fronting a punk-influenced band before moving to Nashville in 1994. Recording with Moutenot, he made his debut with 2002's Narcotic Lollipop.
"The whole thing has been a relationship with Roger that has evolved," Jones says of recording with Moutenot, who had previously produced Yo La Tengo and Sleater-Kinney. "I really haven't worked with anybody else. I think we started out nebulous, and then we got more specific and focused."
Ancestor came out of trio sessions with Norris and Hamlett. "Ryan and Kyle and I played the songs together — no click track, no wallpaper," says Jones. "We started out with a different approach, which was a string-band approach, just sitting in a circle. That was really great — it took it somewhere else for us."
Augmenting the basic tracks with Lambchop drummer Scott Martin's beats, Moutenot and Jones let the songs groove in tempos that sometimes waver slightly. "State I'm In" starts off with drums that lope along in service of a single-note guitar line carrying the song's melody. The sounds of a couple of recorded cocktail parties complete the aural backdrop, and Sven Regener's trumpet gives an urbane tone to the proceedings.
"I don't like to tell people what to play, but I like to see what their take on it is," Jones says of the Ancestor sessions. "These guys are experimenting with these walls of sound, and then you have a guy writing simple songs. You have these guys who grew up with Eno as their god, but for me, it's more like Johnny Cash — simple, simplistic statements."
The songs work perfectly: "Jackson" and "O Child" are basic rock tunes, while "Joy" features a sing-along chorus. Meanwhile, Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner contributes guitar to "Joy," and Patty Griffin provides background vocals on four tracks. Ancestor builds upon the sound of Lambchop, whose mid-'90s shows impressed Jones in the singer's early days in Nashville.
"We went down to [now-defunct record shop] Lucy's and we heard Lambchop," Jones remembers. "And I thought, 'This is gonna be incredible.' I thought all the bands were going to be as cool as Lambchop."
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