We’ve teamed up with a handpicked group of the best music writers on the web – from Austin and beyond – to give you a deeper look at the broad range of talented artists set to perform at ACL this October. Whether you rediscover an old favorite or get to know a new band, these in-depth features will prep you for the buffet of musical goodness coming your way in a few short weeks. Today’s look at Justin Jones is from CultureMap Austin‘s Managing Editor (and resident music authority), Arden Ward.
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.
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 appearance at ACL Festival (Friday at 2:30PM) will ease you into the festival experience with all the makings of a successful, soulful live set complete with songwriting grit from a kid who grew up on “Dixie” in the hills of Virginia.