There's little doubt those familiar with Jones as a co-founder of Cul de Sac will appreciate his restrained and subtle playing. He also has serious credibility as the man who brought Robbie Basho's live album Bonn Ist Supreme to our ears last year and who was entrusted with liner notes for several of Fahey's re-releases and for Red Cross, his final album. All well and good, and Jones obviously knows his stuff. Fear not, though, for the clarity of his compositions, his technical range, and his obvious wit, all lift him above dusty acedemia. Barbeque Bob in Fishtown is a recording which communicates skill and research, but never at the expense of joy, imagination and sheer love for music.
That's not to say that I go around humming these intriguing tunes. Well, "Snowdrops (For Robert Walser)" is whistleable, I imagine, and probably the most immeadiately pretty track here. The piece is perfect on so many levels. The title is a marvelous nod to the microscopic beauty of the Swiss author's poems and (very) short stories written on gum wrappers and tiny scraps of paper. I'm grateful for Jones's effective exhumation of this writer (known to Kafka) and will seek out Walser's work. "Snowdrops" probably features less notes and more space than any other on the album and the choice of National Radio-Tone Bendaway resonator guitar for this piece is so right. I also like that the track avoids using any faux-deranged musical passage as reference to Walser's admission into a mental hospital, where he effectively quit writing, saying "I'm not here to write, but to be mad."
That quote comes from the excellent booklet accompanying this release. The explanations of different guitars and tunings are generous and useful. The album is fine without them but the notes added to my enjoyment like excellent informative panels in an art gallery. The photos of (the actual rural blues guitarist) Barbeque Bob, of Robert Walser in a snow fall, of a still from the film Forbidden Games, and of Jones with guitarist Wendy Ritger are lovely. The larger pictures of Jones getting his nails done (got to protect your craft) are truthful and amusing. And those qualities of honesty and humor run in a subtle way throughout Barbeque Bob in Fishtown and lend the release an air of calmness, sincerity and fun. There are some more intense passages, such as his piece of Basho-from-memory "Redwood Ramble Misremembered" and his hearty Basho tribute "1337 Shattuck Avenue, Apartment D" but even there Jones never loses sight of the fact that he is playing this music for someone else to enjoy.
His approach is illustrated by "Keep It A Hundred Years," Jones' first piece for banjo which he says pinches "a snatch of melody" from "Jeux Interdits," the main theme from Forbidden Games (performed there by Narciso Yepes). Jones' "version" is a sweet and simple tune which, after playing it in concert in Europe, he discovered is considered a bit of a cliché there since it's a common piece for classical guitar beginners! Nevertheless, it appears here and is splendid. The track's title is taken from a piece of the film's dialogue.
Glenn Jones is someone I'd like to see play in concert and I will be seeking out his earlier work Against Which The Sea Continually Beats and his contribution to the Robbie Basho tribute disc We Are All One, In The Sun. There are some serious players doing solo guitar: Bishop, Rose, Newman, and others such as Ben Reynolds who put out a good solo guitar record this year: How The Day Earnt It's Night. In any company, Glenn Jones is as safe a pair of hands to which the preservation and exploration of this genre could ever hope to be trusted. I usually listen to music at the computer or through the MP3 player in my car. Doing that with this disc was alright but it was more genuinely transporting and immersing when heard on tiny headphones while I browsed a bookstore for hours yesterday. Curiously, this drew several critical glances from other browsers who I assumed were sociopaths pissed off by my contented reverie, until later realizing I'd missed several cellphone calls.