When: Sun., May 25, 9 p.m. 2014
With his weathered looks and creaky voice, Stone Jack Jones seems to be the too-perfect archetype of an Appalachian folk musician. Some aspects of his biography reinforce the notion; he comes, for instance, from four generations of West Virginia coal miners. During the song "Black Coal," he pays tribute to his recently deceased father with mournful sighs that lift skyward over hypnotic guitar strums. He sounds so specifically plugged into that world that he must have always lived amid those hills and crags.
But much of Jones' life has been filled with eccentric artistic detours—stints as an Atlanta night club owner, a ballet dancer, an escape artist. Despite the sounds of his third record, Ancestor, it was '70s punk rock, not folk or country, that first got him on stage.
"I've always written music and written songs, but I didn't have a door to go through," recalls Jones. "I'd work in theater, so when the theater wasn't happening I'd just do street performance and travel around until I found another theater group. It was punk that really opened it up. There's something about people like Patti Smith that just made it OK."
But there was a decades-long lag between the point Jones found the courage to perform his music and when he became a recording artist, even after moving to Nashville in the '90s to pursue music. "I didn't like recording studios," he explains. "I just wanted to play live. I didn't care about making records. I was almost living out of the hat, but it was the lifestyle I liked. When I did go to recording studios, they'd put me in a room somewhere. The isolation was just like, 'Ugh, I don't feel right.'"
Nashville producer Roger Moutenot changed Jones' mind: "Working with him was more like a live experience, all very creative and happening and in the moment."
Mountenot, whose credits include albums for Yo La Tengo and Sleater-Kinney, helped craft Ancestor's stark, haunting ambiance. It's a fuller version of the unfiltered sound on the two records he made with Jones a decade ago, a small step up that took eight years to realize. Stone Jack Jones has never really been in a hurry. With Coupler and lylas. —Jeff Klingman