Darkly lustrous Americana on West Virginian Stone Jack Jones’s second album, the follow-up to last year’s well-received ‘Ancestor’. The fact that Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) drops by to lend his tones to “Circumstance” should offer some idea of the songwriting chops on display throughout this 10-track exploration of life, death and ultimate redemption.
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Stone Jack Jones is not making Americana. Not really; not the kind you’re thinking of. He is a hard-worn traveller, and he sees the open road as a potential song, but he is also a goth -- his banjo stretches into dark tunnels and his voice lurches, grumbles and salivates towards its listener. ‘Love & Torture’ is a folk record, but one with scratches all over it, recalling the macabre post-punk of Nick Cave, if it were transposed for softer and quieter arrangements.
Like previous Jones’ records, ‘Love & Torture’ offers a slight twist on conventional folk rock, with songs being rerouted towards distortion, strange picking and syncopated drums. “Circumstance” begins as a banjo tune before it becomes awash with noisy stipends, Jones continuing to mumble underneath like his position is irrelevant. “Thrill Thrill” uses tambourine to send icy chills down the spine; “Disappear” turns plaintive twang into a horrible car alarm before twisting it again into what sounds like a merry-go-round watched in sepia tone, with strings forcibly pulled out of Jones’ guitar; his lyrics, meanwhile, narrate a crumbling state of existence: “In the morning I’ll be leaving here/In the morning this will all disappear”.
This is something of an avant-garde folk record, one that burns slowly and dies uncomfortably; it recalls Eric Chenaux’s ‘Skullsplitter’ in how well it articulates its sense of confusion and displacement through the obfuscation of melody -- Jones never quite lets anything rest perfectly, with “Russia” a prime example, a mumbling cavalcade of harmonies that scatters around random guitar picking. It's a little Tom Waits, a little Nick Cave, but it's scarier -- Stone Jack only ever tells half the story.
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