At 70 years old – and splitting his time between Paris and Nashville – Black Snake, the fifth album from musical vagabond Stone Jack Jones, finds the musician still in transit, though now he’s travelling planes both physical and otherwise.
Black Snake feels mystical rather than spiritual: This is not an album about looking in as much as it is about reaching out. Though these songs reflect on specific ailments of our time – police brutality, the immigrant crisis, and the general weariness of the human condition – Black Snake is an album steeped in memory and longing. In total, there are three songs of death, two of madness, two of love, and a journey… And none of it exists on entirely solid ground.
Recorded in Nashville by long-time producer Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney, Bob Dylan), Black Snake sessions would begin with an oddly-specific ritual: Everyone would gather in Moutenot’s backyard, drums would be distributed and, once a suitable groove was gathered, the individual musicians would tell a story involving their childhood backyard. Jones’ prominently featured a bright black snake.
Once a suitable vibe was established, Jones would allow his musicians to improvise upon each song’s skeletal form – often producing beautifully contradictory results – especially on the wavering, carnival-like seance of “O Brother.” Each track features layers of gliding guitars, piano, electronics, horns, and even more percussion – each finding its place in the music’s undulating flow. The introduction of Jones’ hypnotically creaking voice invokes a world that seems more liminal than ever – where the past, the present, the living, and the dead slither to the sounds of his psychedelic country noir. It’s astral travelling in 6/8 time.
As usual, Black Snake features Jones’ preferred crew of Music City outsiders, including Kyle Hamlett (lylas), Rodrigo Avendano (Coupler, Sun Seeker, Soccer Mommy), Patrick Damphier, Luke Schneider (Margo Price, William Tyler), Katie Banyay (Idle Bloom), Stewart Bronaugh (Lionlimb, Angel Olsen), Scott Martin (Lambchop), Gyasi, Scott Martin and Madeleine Besson.