Vade Mecum is a collection of ten instrumentals, performed fingerstyle on solo acoustic guitar by veteran virtuoso Glenn Jones, though he’d likely resist the second descriptor. According to Jones, the Latin phrase means ‘go with me’. Another definition is a handbook kept by one’s side for ready reference – handy when one is lost. Here the compositions of Glenn Jones act as guide, journey, companion and destination.
The title track establishes the artist’s mastery. Relentless alternating bass and wordless refrains beat a path to new keys with rattles and jangles that remind the listener that this is a live performance. “Forsythia” offers the first sense of new territory, re-tuning the bass strings to a deep mooch which, if not for the agile bending, would recall an almost medieval figure. This player’s methodology is about discovering the compositional affordances of alternative tunings and self-devised half-capos, exploring and seeing where he ends up. Some artists would stay in this experimental domain, but Jones returns with a handful of inviting tunes.
“Bass Harbor Head” is particularly languid and evocative, incorporating a field recording of wind, waves and barking seals from Maine’s Mount Desert Island, where Matthew Azevado captured the album. His production work shines across the landscape with warmth and immediacy, revealing varying choices of space, reverb and intimacy.
After such placid playing, the low buzzing bends of the exploratory “Each Crystal Pane of Glass” surprise like the guitar groans at the opening of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” but Jones soon weaves space around the sounds. The artist writes, “The ‘not knowing’ is what keeps me engaged and curious; ‘not knowing’ keeps me coming back.” This longer piece is rightly placed at the heart of Vade Mecum, and feels like a journey through an unfamiliar neighbourhood of unmapped patterns and unsettled feelings. The playing is skillful, but unafraid to show a friendly, unshaven face – it’s not ‘primitive’ to hear the effort amongst the ease. It’s simply a reminder that for all he knows, Glenn Jones is hanging on to these tunes by his fingertips.
“Handful of Snow” is easier to grasp and more traditional in form, but has twists and quirks like a conversation with a weird yet cherished friend. Jones is comfortable finding a discordance and pulling on it. “Ruthie’s Farewell” stands on the end of the jetty with a banjo in its hands and a violin at its shoulder. It’s followed by another ‘name’ track, “John Jackson of Fairfax”, which evokes a laconic elder with a shed full of junk who nonetheless claims a place for everything and everything in its place. What will his family do with this stuff when he’s gone?
“Away” is a lovely piece of musical joinery, closing the album with the melody nestling next to the bass, reminding listeners that this ensemble of sounds is the gift of only one man, years of musical exploration, and two hands on wood and wire, journeying on. (David Megarrity)