Friday, April 23, 2010

Jacob Jones @ The Basement, Nashville, 4.15.10

Jacob Jones, co-founder of Electric Western Records and Nashville resident for the last year or so, refers to himself as a folk musician. I’m not big on labels, but if you’re going to use them “folk” appeals to me more than the modern moniker “Americana.” Purists might cry, but if you’re a label purist you’ve got bigger problems than what a guy like Jacob Jones chooses to call himself. At any rate, in this case “folk” really means “American” - influenced by all the sounds unique to our culture, regardless of genre. In Jones’ guitar-and-harmonica style you can see more than a little bit of early Bob Dylan, but the influence of later American songsmiths like Bruce Springsteen and Townes Van Zandt melds with the older ghosts into a package that’s more than the sum of its parts.

The Basement in Nashville was the perfect location for the CD Release party last week spotlighting Jones’ new disc, Bound For Glory. The ceilings in the 8th Avenue South venue are low and the people in attendance are, in contrast to some other places in this record-company town, at a decibel level somewhere below the music itself. The room is on the smallish side but still gives you some room to move around, lending a feel of homey intimacy that’s well-suited to a man who spends much of his time on the road and, on this particular night, complementing the quieter moments that Jones put on offer for his audience.

Jones opened his set with one of those quiet moments, stepping on the stage with his guitar and getting down to business with “A Stranger In Your Town.” “I’ll bet you’d never guess who I am, I’m a stranger in your land,” sang Jones, and on most nights he’d be right - he spends longer on the road in a year than the average person does in a lifetime, logging stage time in one small heartland town before packing up the truck and heading off to the next destination. But with his band of all-star Nashville players in tow - Drew Belk on pedal steel, Bob Grant on mandolin, Steve Latanation on drums and Jeremy Darrow on upright bass - there was no doubt that Jones is far from an unknown quantity around these parts.

Jacob Jones and Molly McClary on "Bonnie & Clyde" (Photo: Jason Kirk)

There were more low-key numbers in the set after the opener - most memorably “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Lost On the Ohio,” both sung as duets with Jones’ girlfriend and collaborator Molly McClary - but the show wasn’t all quiet and tender. Stompers like “The Blues Ain’t Got Nothing On You,” “So Long Woman” and a raucous, countrified cover of The Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” complete with Belk’s pedal steel in place of the slinky lead guitar track, kept the evening’s tempo from becoming too predictable. The up-and-down rhythm of the set made its 12 songs breeze by in no time.

Just before launching into “Slave to the Grave,” Jones told the audience that this would be the last song of the night. “And none of that bullshit where we put our stuff away and then come back,” he said. True to form, he kept his promise. But the instruments didn’t come off right away. Jones lingered onstage with the band, as if his feet wanted to go but he couldn’t bear to leave the place where he belongs. Eventually he came to a compromise: we can leave, feet, but we’ve got to do this again at the first opportunity. Luckily for him, the road is a way of life rather than an obligation and that opportunity is never more than a day away.

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