ZACH JONES (far left) and friends | Photo by Jake Austin
You could accuse Zach Jones of living in the past. While the music-industry prognosticators declare the era of the album over, Jones gives them the finger by releasing his fourth album as an essentially two-track affair, with the first five songs in a single “Side A” and the second five songs (plus a hidden piece) as “Side B.”
Plus, it’s narrative, and it’s often important that the songs be played in order so that the beginnings and ends sound right, and Jones is apt to tell you that the album plays out like a movie in his mind.
Basically, he doesn’t give a shit.
That kind of damn-the-masses art-making can sometimes go pretty sour, prone to self-indulgent tripe that would have been better had it never left someone’s bedroom, but this is Zach Jones we’re talking about here. The guy who crushed 2012 with Things Were Better and just oozes an easy-going charisma.
So the whole thing turns out pretty well, in the end. Sure, there are those who will find his riffing on Ray Davies’s “Days” (1968) and Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s Oscar-winning “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962) somewhat pretentious, along with the string and horn sections that swell nearly every song to orchestral heights. But those who can appreciate a vision fully realized should enjoy this project quite a bit.
There’s no certified hit, à la “Things Were Better,” which led off the last album. In general, this is the most subdued of Jones’s albums, with his lead vocals nearly always in falsetto and quite a lot of nostalgia and regret fueling the storyline.
That said, the stripped-down “Why Pretend,” with Jones showing off his fingerstyle acoustic-guitar chops, is the most powerful thing he’s ever put out. His vocals are ultra-present, dominating the sound as he delivers a message that must have been heartbreaking for someone to hear: “So, I can try to see both sides, but why should we pretend?/I just want to move on/Go back to calling you my friend.”
It’s a sentiment he’s unafraid of expressing. “Undertow” might have more of a bounce to it, driven by a churning cello and chiming tambourine or cymbal from the percussion team of Chris Sweet on drums and Kate Beever on everything else, but it’s a tortured break-up song, nonetheless. “I’ll still be with you when I’m gone,” our protagonist assures his opposite, “I will always be your friend.” Sounds like somebody’s playing a game of justification: “At times you might feel lost/There were lines that we both crossed.”
In whose opinion?
Maybe it’s easier to just convince yourself it’s “Not Meant to Be,” where the piano is all kinds of ’60s pop and the backing vocals, with a lovely descending harmony part in the chorus tell the real story.
Of course, that’s all on Side A. Side B is much more of a wing-spreading look to the future.
The opening “Get Away” shows off the string section of Lauren Hastings Genova and Emily Dix Thomas (they also play with Rustic Overtones from time to time) especially, with layers of parts wrapping in upon each other and Jones eventually entering to echo and mirror their melody lines.