Glenn Jones: Fleeting

Fleeting creates a geography of sound, making these notes from guitar and banjo feel like the creaks and groans of an old house.

Glenn Jones


US Release: 2016-03-18
Label: Thrill Jockey
UK Release: 2016-03-18
Label Website

When you hear "Flower Turned Inside-Out", the opening tracks to Glenn Jones's latest record, Fleeting, you might be inclined to think you've heard this before. The track is firmly in the American Primitive tradition, spinning notes into a pastoral whirl that is both tuneful and challenging, bright and yet bittersweet. But as the song moves on, and the record that follows it, it becomes clear that any notion that Jones stands in the shadow of John Fahey is misguided. Fleeting achieves something each Jones record has worked toward, to create a geography of sound, to make these notes from guitar and banjo feel like the creaks and groans of an old house, to make you picture the dust pluming off each plucked string, to see the motes drifting through sunlight pouring through a nearby window.

This sense of geography comes from Jones's own fascination with place. He recorded this album in a house in Mount Holly, New Jersey overlooking Rancocas Creek. Jones and engineer Laura Baird don't try to hide the space from these songs. You can almost hear the music echoing off hardwood floors or rising up into spacious ceilings. Whether the recording space is expansive, it feels that way on Fleeting. "In Durance Vile", which casts a fascinating shadow after the playful bursts of "Flower Turned Inside-Out", seems to revel in the stillness of the space around it. Jones carefully builds his phrasings here, sometimes dipping into flamenco, but mostly staying in American folk traditions but making them his own. His shift between finger-picked notes and ringing chords make it sound as if two instruments are playing at the same time, and the tempo shifts between careful, tip-toeing movements, and a more deliberate thump.

Jones has always shifted between guitar and banjo on record, but on Fleeting the two feel intermeshed. The muted banjo on "Cleo Awake" and "Cleo Asleep" both play on the same melody, but there's a charming quiet to the tunes, both a tribute to a friend's newborn and a song that could both lull the child sweetly to sleep and perhaps not wake her. The album rarely sticks to one emotion, though. "Mother's Day" is similarly quiet, but also feels far more melancholy. "Close to the Ground" builds on the tension of hard-plucked notes. It always seems on the verge of a crescendo that never comes, adding a tension to the record that doesn't appear elsewhere.

Fleeting also provides more overt surprises. "Spokane River Falls", a tune at the heart of this album's sense of place, allows Jones to make the banjo sound like falling water, each drop a note, each cluster tangled together like a brief torrent. Jones deals in his own invented tunings and the use of partial capos. There is much innovation and invention behind these songs. These kinds of singular approaches feel like they're in the background. They're not fussy attempts at seeming progressive, but just paths to sounds that appeal widely. "Spokane River Falls", though, shifts on a more obvious experiment for Jones. The banjo eventually yields to the all-encompassing sound of the water itself, of the falls cascading down. It's a jarring moment, but an effective one, where Jones yields to the space he is paying tribute to.

He also is aware of his space in the musical world, and pays tribute to his influences. Mostly notably, he honors Robbie Basho on "Portrait of Basho as a Young Dragon". It's a high point in the record, where Jones is smart enough to avoid trying to sound like Basho. He doesn't build up those towering, dense ragas. Instead, he hints at Basho's style -- the way some heavy-hit notes buzz, for example -- while penning his own letter to Basho in his own voice, his own style. It is fittingly the album's longest song, one that takes up the most space, and one that Basho would no doubt admire. It's steady pace and careful, tumble-down phrasings boomerang between the earthen and the ethereal, between the access road and the astral plane. And that's where Fleeting lives, in between those spaces, making its own mark on seemingly well-worn paths. Jones is perhaps our most emotive guitarist, and the bittersweet sense of time passing, of lives gone and lives still being lived, runs through this record. Those are the things that are fleeting, but the album seems to acknowledge those up front so it can get to the way we move through and around those things, the way we connect with the spaces and people that surround us, the feelings behind it all. In other words, the lasting stuff.





The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.


Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.


Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.


'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.


10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.


'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.


The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.