Cassie Ramone (aka Grzymkowski) is a singer/songwriter and guitarist best known for her work with Vivian Girls and the Babies. She embarked on a solo career as a recording artist in 2014 with the release of her LP The Time Has Come. She currently plays as a member of local New York City bands OCDPP and Melt. Her latest solo LP, Christmas In Reno, is out this 2015 Christmas season on Burger Records.
I’d never heard of Stone Jack Jones before, and that’s why I wanted to write about his album. Talkhouse managing editor Michael Tedder reached out to me about doing another piece for the website, but I thought it would be neat to go into something completely blind. A website that lists upcoming releases said Stone Jack Jones was a “Nashville-based ambient folk musician,” which piqued my interest. I’ve been super into folk music lately — like, way more so than rock music. But a lot of folk music isn’t that interesting to me either, if it sounds too traditional. So I guess what I’m into is “weirder” folk music, and this seemed like it fit that description. So I checked out Ancestor, Jones’ third album.
I really like this album. The production is amazing. It has the country-folk feel of someone who you could see playing in a mostly empty dive bar in the South, but with flourishes of weird sound effects like whirring reverb and tiny crashing cymbals. The lyrical themes and chord progressions are timeless, but the production feels fresh and current. If I could find a fault, it’s that the lyrics are very typical for the genre. He sings about Jackson, Mississippi, the coal mine and drinking whiskey. It’s well-trodden territory, but his sad voice and the production elevate it greatly. There’s a female voice on some of the songs — Patty Griffin — which I was not expecting. When they harmonize it’s beautiful and haunting. It’s a great album to listen to if you’re feeling kinda sad and mellow and want to light candles and lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.
One song in particular that I really like is “Joy.” On first listen it seemed borderline corny — it has the most upbeat chords and melody of any song on the album — but as it goes on it becomes clear that it’s about death: “Joy’s a-comin'” is the refrain. I appreciate his ability to sing about death through this lens. It’s nice to think about death being a good experience rather than a bad one. As human beings we are programmed to be afraid of death, but I’ve read a lot about death and it seems like it’s actually an amazing and enlightening experience. Also, so many things about life are so horrible that welcoming death becomes kind of an appealing concept.
I also really like “Way Gone Wrong.” It’s one of the darker-sounding songs on the album. It kind of sounds like a pack of horses running across a dusty desert at sunset with a huge storm looming in the distance. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times and can’t exactly tell what the lyrics are about, although my best guess is addiction. The song reminds me a little bit of Gun Outfit, a band originally from Olympia, Washington — I’d describe them as a punk band with country/western influences, sort of similar to Dead Moon or a way rawer version of X. I was really into their record Dim Light a few years back. “Way Gone Wrong” reminded me of their really cool off kilter male-female harmonies.
Until now, I’d avoided reading any background on Jones — I wanted to go into this piece completely blind. But apparently, he’s the descendant of four generations of coal miners, which makes his lyrics about the coal mine totally understandable. Jones says he worked in a carnival at one point, and also wandered the country, living out of a car and recycling bottles for a living. So cool. I love vagabonds and wanderers and anyone with an interesting life story.
Jones won’t reveal his real name or age, but he’s older than I thought he was — I assumed he was in his late twenties or early thirties, but it turns out he was the frontman of a few punk bands in the early ’80s, which would make him at least 50. To be honest, I’m usually not that inspired by music people over the age of 45 make — not that it’s bad, it’s just my personal bias. I’m scared of losing my ability to make relevant or “good” music as I get older, because pretty much all of my favorite artists lost it at some point. (I’m sure a lot of you reading this would disagree, but whatever.) Listening to this music is a very inspiring experience.