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First Listen: Glenn Jones, 'My Garden State'

NPR icon by Lars Gotrich
Jesse Sheppard

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From its name onward, Glenn Jones' My Garden State sets a personal tone. The album was written in the northern New Jersey house where the American Primitive-style guitarist and banjo player grew up with his family. When his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's some years back, he and his sisters took turns looking after her, and it was there that these loving pieces came together.

Jones likes to work in the small corners of melody — not abstractly, but to find the essence of melody and turn it over like sunbathers on holiday. There's the rolling "Vernal Pool" and the floorboard-creaking "Blues for Tom Carter" (named the guitarist who contracted severe pneumonia while on tour last year), both hypnotic and surprising once you dig in. The two banjo songs — the title track and "Across the Tappan Zee," which features a duo with Laura Baird — both meditate on single ideas like Appalachian Zen. The other Baird sister, Meg, joins in for "Going Back to East Montgomery," and as Jones writes in the liner notes, her second guitar is a "shot of sweet joy," suddenly brightening the romp.

Jones has spent the last two decades in Massachusetts as a musician, but for a few years, he returned to New Jersey and found an old part of himself. A bittersweet record, My Garden State (out May 14) is there to remind us that our roots are stronger than we remember — and that wherever you end up, it's about the home you make.

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