Ballad of a thin man

Feb 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

The Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor area has such a glut of talent loosely defined by the term "folk" that it almost seems unfair to expect the casual listener to keep everybody in that particular scene straight. Still, Matt Jones' debut album is certainly a standout among his talented brothers and sisters in arms. The album is defined by Jones'voice, a soft, vibrato-rich tenor, and his own finger-picking on guitar. The sound — as produced by Jim Roll, another local singer-songwriter — is at once both intimate and rich, with the arrangements filled out by a full band, including backup vocals and violin provided by Jones' girlfriend Carol Gray.

The nine songs and two instrumentals here include both heartbreaking confessions ("I've been drinking like it's Mother's Day" begins the track "Holy Light") and richly dark, up-tempo folk. It’s a testament to Jones’ versatility as a songwriter that the album actually leads with one of the artist’s most compelling and well-known (at least to his fans) songs, "Threadlines." Syncopated guitar lines are backed by a military drum-beat, violin and piano runs atop Jones' lyrics, all leading to a crescendo and sing-along chorus that would be the worthy centerpiece of most albums.

Although The Black Path does slow down a bit after this defining first track, it never loses its energy, instead taking the listener on an expedition of sounds and ideas while maintaining its musical balancing act throughout. Jones has been writing and performing in the area for the better part of 10 years, so he must have plenty of songs to spare. But rather than giving us his "greatest hits," he’s distilled his sound to the point that nothing’s wasted. Both personal and lush, The Black Path has solidified Matt Jones as a worthy voice in an already rich musical landscape.

Matt Jones is touring the country from February 8 through February 28 in support of The Black Path, followed by several Michigan dates, including a date at the Metro Times Blowout on Friday, March 6 at the Atlas Bar.

Leah Warshaw reviews music for Metro Times. Contact [email protected].