Inside ACL 2012
This Southern songwriting story begins in the rolling hills of Virginia. It stars a young boy whose musical roots were firmly planted in the bluegrass tunes that frequented his family get-togethers; a boy whose ear was turned to the Dixie-laden sounds of The Band and who hung onto every note.
Fading Light emerges as an introspective look at his oft-bumpy journey, capturing the dichotomy of his near-Appalachian upbringing and his youthful Americana yearning.
Justin Jones’ music speaks to the cabins, trailers and campsites that made up his home of Rawley Springs, Virginia — a place to which he doesn’t even assign the word “town” — but his music doesn’t stop there.
It also speaks to a songwriter’s dreams that fell outside the confines of banjo picking and three-part harmonies, and the stumbles he experienced along the way.
After a relatively shaky — at one time drug-fueled — voyage in music making, Jones released his fourth full-length album, Fading Light in 2012, a project that seems to circumvent his earlier missteps with no trouble. A collection of songs written over a two-year period, Fading Light emerges as an introspective look at his oft-bumpy journey, capturing the dichotomy of his near-Appalachian upbringing and his youthful Americana yearning.
It blends the chilling effects of sparse songwriting with standard — but not trite — rock n’ roll elements. The approach isn’t surprising when you learn that the album was produced by Jamie Candiloro, who has worked with other genre-bending music heroes from the east, like Ryan Adams and R.E.M.
Fading Light is at once dark, soulful and unexpected: In it you’ll find a place where sorrowful violin and electric guitar exist in jarring harmony. It’s an album that keeps your ear pleasantly on edge.
One of the album’s most breathtaking standouts, “Racine,” thoughtfully merges a barren singer-songwriter intro with eerie violin fills and a Southern rock inspired guitar solo (think “Tuesday’s Gone”). On “As It Turns Out,” Jones relies less on bluesy hooks, instead finding the one-two-punch in a pairing of simple lyrics and mellow rock roots.
Quite possibly the most bare bones, but infatuating, of the tracks is “Christmas Night,” where Jones presents an incredibly vulnerable, intimate depiction of love that is pure Americana.
We’ll plant a garden in this newborn earth
We’ll grow tomatoes, we’ll grow corn
Cook for our babies even when they’re grown
We’ll cross the room, you catch my eye
I’ll remember Christmas night
There’s an anthemic nature to Jones’ contemporary catalogue that mirrors early Springsteen songwriting without taking on the all-American, blue-collar stereotypes. But if it did, it would register as a genuine nod to his own heritage, not as an already-played move from someone else’s songbook.
A relative newcomer to the festival circuit, Jones has shared stages with the likes of Ray LaMontagne, K.D. Lang, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and Drive-By Truckers since reemerging onto the circuit in 2010. Though his singer-songwriter overtones may seem to lend themselves better to a small listening room, Jones’ tunes are not short on power.
His early appearance at ACL will ease you into the festival experience with all the makings of a successful, soulful live set: an afternoon of songwriting grit from a kid who grew up on “Dixie” in the hills of Virginia.
This preview appears in ACL Festival's Artist Discovery Series and can also be read on their website. Justin Jones plays ACL Festival on Friday, October 12 at 2:30 p.m.