Lately I’ve been getting lost a lot in Parallelograms, the once-lost now-resurrected album of dental hygienist-turned-ambient-folk-singer Linda Perhacs, whose music was an early precursor to the “freak folk” quadrant of music, namely the likes of Devendra Banhardt, Sufjan Stevens, the weirder stuff from Father John Misty – songs that often balance classic, acoustic melodies with ambient, layered sounds, teetering in the middle of a perfect scale between discomfort and warmth, mustering an equally diverse emotional response. I put on these records when I need help tipping my own scale in either direction, and booze or shitty magazines aren’t cutting it. Or sometimes I just listen, no intention at all. And I think about Linda, doing her day job scraping teeth, sonic masterpieces built with twenty layers of her own harmony sitting in her back pocket. I think of how much I hate the dentist. Because I really do.
Stone Jack Jones makes music that’s a modern southern, bare-bones cousin of Parallelograms, made with every ashy drop of coal dust that’s settled into his fingernails – as a descendant of four generations of miners, the spirit of that deep, dark world makes up the red blood cells of these songs, cloaking you thick in its smoky haze, the way quarry-towns in his native West Virginia are wont to do. Now based in Nashville, Jones is releasing his third LP, Ancestor, produced by Roger Moutenot with appearances from Patty Griffin, (some of) Lambchop and Courtney Tidwell, and the result is a record firm in its composition, rich in its atmosphere and thick with carefully-executed folk experimentation. Some basic Googling would lead you to believe that this is some kind of “mountain music,” but these are songs firmly connected to city streets: mining may be his (and his writing’s) ancestry, but there’s a modern son here, who’s lived, traveled, passed through wars, been caged in apartments and not see life unfold easily. Because the saxophone line, restless lyrics and ambient chatter of songs like “State I’m In” say so. I hear folk legends but I hear Tom Waits and Jason Moran, too.
Tonight, he’ll celebrate the album’s release at the Stone Fox, with Adia Victoria opening. The record, now out, can be streamed here. If you purchase the LP from Grimeys, Fond Object or The Groove today, you’ll get into the show for free: just bring your receipt to the door.
My first job was at the Central Park Summerstage in New York City; I had to wear a t-shirt and pick up trash, two things equally devastating to a teenager. Here, Jones tells us about his early jobs in the pure poetry apparent in his lyrics.
“I had moved beyond entertaining and was searching for a cosmic coma,” he says. “I was joined by three Puerto Rican girls who like to dance on those slanted delivery grates on the sidewalk while I battered and sung my guitar into hell. This was the start of something. I’m still there.”
And I’m still looking.
Early Jobs, by Stone Jack Jones
1. the farm (age 8)
goldie & i would leave out about 4:30 in the morning. she would be alert with her ears perked up and her hooves prancing. our job was to gather up the cows for the morning milking. it would be dark and foggy and there would be wolves, snakes, bears and deranged hillbillies escaped from jail or the loony bin. i was thankful for my brave pony. in the light of day these would turn out to be tree stumps, fallen branches, a rhododendron lurking at the edge of the woods and a hired hand making his way to work. once we had the cows at the barn raymond took over. he was the head milker and always had the radio on with the rhythm of the milking machines. he said the cows gave more milk when elvis was singing. i would walk out into the barnyard to take a pee and raymond would call out “shake it more than three times you’re playing with it” accompanied with his machine gun laugh. every time i went to pee he would say this and for the life of me i couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to play with their penis.
2. the company (age 16)
johnny blount was my boss and he drove a ford bronco and i road shotgun. it was the first vehicle i ever saw with a phone and it honked the horn instead of ringing so he could hear it if we were up on the side of a mountain. i rode shotgun and this did indeed include a shotgun and i usually had a cup of coffee since we started out pretty early in the morning. we drove around the coal company?s property to check the gates, for poachers, thieves, trespassers and any such activities the company frowned upon. folks steeling timber was a big one. there were some legitimate logging operations and these were always the most fun. we pulled into one and saw a old fellow sitting on a log and johnny asked if everything was alright as he wasn?t working. he said he was fine, just snake-bit and they?d take him in at quittin time. i met two young men about my age and our conversation turned to vietnam pretty quick. i asked how they were staying out of the draft as that was a big concern of mine. they looked at me with the bluest eyes i have ever seen and said they ain?t got no birth certificates as was were born at home. everyone broke for lunch and the banjos & fiddles came out and and even the snake-bit fellow was dancin around. we had to leave to go chase down a chainsaw thief. i asked why the law didn?t do it and johnny said they don?t like getting shot. johnny had a winnin way with these folks.
3. the carnival (age 18)
well her daddy had a shotgun and he was standing at the foot of the bed at about 5:30 in the morning and he was drunk and pointing it at me. something about her getting pregnant and never come around again and i left as quick as i could. i wandered around town with nowhere to go and found a carnival on the edge of town. i hung around all day visiting with the carnies and met a guy with a big box decorated in a psychedelic manner. inside the box were loudspeakers and flashing colored lights. strobes. i bought a ticket to check it out and stood in the middle of the box. other kids crammed in there like sardines and would loose their minds to the rolling stones and their close proximity to each other. this was way before discos. there wasn?t much for kids to do. the guy asked me if i wanted a job and gave me a revolver and a bag of pot. i was told to sit on top of the box and if anyone hassled him i was to shoot the gun so everyone would scatter. i loved sitting up there and staring down the midway with all the lights and meandering people. when we got a motel room he would unload a suitcase full of cash and lay it out on the bed. he made neat little piles and covered the whole bed with it. he would be very excited. he loved counting his money and would do it over and over again. he usually shared some whiskey.
4. the restaurant (age 19)
my new wife and i moved to boston. i don?t know why. she was a painter and said she could paint there. i had no idea what to do with myself. i just stared out the window at the cars and people and strummed my guitar. i got a job washing dishes at a french restaurant near harvard square. it was the best job i ever had. it was warm and there were all sorts of new people to meet. not like any people i had ever met. and the food was great and they fed the whole crew. it was also warm and i wasn?t prepared for the weather and we had no heat and sometimes the snow came into where we lived and didn?t melt. and i liked walking to work and looking at all the people sometimes walking through demonstrations with people real passionate about things. this was the first world and i had come from the third world. i was introduced to hard drugs, soft drugs, a lesbian that loved me, jews, radicals, poets on thorazine, food, bellbottoms, people with funny accents, bakers who made real bread, vampires, the plow & the stars, buses, music written 500 years ago, kidnappers, and mean cops. whenever i eat off a plastic or paper plate i think there is someone who doesn’t have an entry level job into this precious first world life that seems to like to throw everything away.
5. the street ( 20 something)
after my divorce i got involved with traveling seasonal theater companies as the musician in the troop. i didn?t speak or sing and played and wrote instrumental music for the productions at hand. between jobs i would do street theater to survive. this is how i got into escape artistry. i was fairly thin and limber and read a bunch of houdini but he was way over my head. instead i would find the two most macho guys in the audience and give them 30 feet of rope to tie me up as viciously as they could. getting more ambitious i would don a straight jacket and hang upside down from a tree. i did this on the vanderbilt campus on my first trip to nashville. perhaps my favorite was the escape from a garbage bag full of water. i managed to escape from them all. my best street show was in new york city near washington square. i had moved beyond entertaining and was searching for a cosmic coma. i was joined by three puerto rican girls who like to dance on those slanted delivery grates on the sidewalk while i battered and sung my guitar into hell. this was the start of something. i’m still there.