“Vade Mecum means, literally, ‘go with me.’,” says Jones. “It’s an invitation.” With that invitation opening the album, Jones acts as a guide across the terrain of interiors and exteriors alike, from barking of seals at “Bass Harbor Head” to the gentle crumble of “A Handful of Snow.” “I tend to think of my albums as the latest entries into something like an ongoing musical diary,” Jones continues. “I don’t write pieces to order or with anything much in mind; I simply follow wherever the music leads me. Why this tuning? Why this note and not that one? Why this chord and not another? Why this tempo and not a different one? I don’t know, and I love not knowing. The ‘not knowing’ is what keeps me engaged and curious; ‘not knowing’ keeps me coming back.” Jones uses those questions of tempo and chords alongside unique open tunings and capos as a way of posing musical questions to himself which he in turn answers with sublime stories that unveil as much about Jones himself as they uncover memories or impressions of their subjects.
“When I play ‘John Jackson of Fairfax, Virginia,’ I think about John (who I met in 1972, and for whom I co-produced two albums, released in 1979 and 1983). John was a lovely man and a superb fingerstyle country blues guitarist – a living connection to the elegant Piedmont country blues and ragtime guitarists of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, whose records I love so much. Like John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Jack Rose and a very few others,” Jones notes, “John Jackson was an influence and a friend.” The rousing “Ruthie’s Farewell” features the album’s one guest musician Ruthie Dornfield, a longtime friend and past collaborator of Jones’ who gifted him his first banjo in 1996 when she was leaving New England for the West Coast. The piece brims with the excitement of old companions reuniting and breathlessly trading stories between one another. A steady wind and unwind of tempo and shifting keys on “Black & White and Gray” conjures equally full, rich canvases of blurred beauty. Jones makes each passage as personal as the last as he dexterously imbues every note with precise emotion.
Jones’ recordings are indelible to his surroundings. Vade Mecum was recorded in March of 2021 on Mount Desert Island in Maine with longtime collaborator Matthew Azevado. The crisp, thin Atlantic air seeps its way into Jones’ playing. “Forsythia” moves with the lanquidity of a persistent winter keeping the spring flowers from blooming. After delaying the recording for a full year and bringing on Azevado to fill the shoes of Jones’ usual engineer, Laura Baird, the album took altogether different shapes than what Jones had initially intended. New pieces that spoke more to Jones’ moment emerged and shouldered out others. The challenges and triumphs of a world recapitulating but altogether changed is thoroughly interrogated in the liminal spaces highlighted by Jones throughout the album.
Glenn Jones’ music draws from a deep well of reflection and memory. Vade Mecum revels in the profound idiosyncrasies and contradictions inherent to the act of remembering and the people remembered. Jones summons luminous detail from the complicated web of emotions intrinsically bonded to memories of loved ones, unfamiliar places, and elusive feelings alike. “It’s a fact of life that as we age, we’ll lose people we love,” concludes Jones. “Vade Mecum contains pieces dedicated to a few of these. Though there is melancholy in such losses, my album is intended to celebrate, not just mourn.”