Ghost Stories, Rainbow Connections, and Sad Songs About Missing Someone
At first glance, Matthew Perryman Jones looks like a serious and navel-gazingly sensitive singer/songwriter with a messenger bag full of wistful ballads. First impressions are often deceiving, because Jones has a bright and playful sense of humor (as evidenced by his work with Neilson Hubbard) and a voice worthy of a strong Irish troubadour.
Accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Jason Goforth and Molly Parden on backing vocals, Jones opened with “Echoes of Eden” from his 2006 album Throwing Punches in the Dark. Goforth’s harmonica, played through an old telephone receiver hooked into some ethereal effects pedal, set a chillingly emotional mood. “Keep It on the Inside” and “Can’t Get It Right” were newer tunes, the latter featured in the television series Nashville.
While changing guitars, Jones confessed to never having mastered the art of switching guitars without an awkward pause, and asked if anyone knew any jokes. “No? Okay, now back to sad songs about missing someone,” which loosened the crowd considerably before he launched into the fittingly sad “Only You,” followed by a new number, “I Can’t Go Back Now.” Appearing to seek a connection beyond the music, or simply out of pure curiosity as a way to introduce the songs, he asked if anyone believed in ghosts. (Without missing a beat, Goforth chimed in with eerie chords from his lap steel.) A woman obliged with a ghost story of her own, to which Jones replied with “Waking Up the Dead.”
He followed by showing off a new guitar strap given to him by a local artist that featured a hand-painted pattern of the wallpaper in Theo Van Gogh’s house. He spoke in depth about creativity, the light and dark aspects of the creative mind, and the inspiration he’s found from Theo’s letters to his brother Vincent, which made “O Theo” and “Wrestling Tigers” all the more resonant, especially with Parden’s gorgeous harmonies and Goforth’s haunting lap steel guitar and harmonica.
The evening began to take on the feel of a loosely scripted play (or therapy session) where anything might happen according to the vibe in the room, when Jones said it was Goforth’s birthday and he’d requested “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie (1979). Since it was such a special day, Jones – who is quite a mimic — even agreed to sing the chorus in the alternating voices of Kermit the Frog, Eddie Vedder, Aaron Neville, and Bob Dylan – all were spot on.
Requests were honored, and Jones performed Patty Griffin’s “Top of the World,” his own “Groundwater” and “Save You” before returning to more personal “random thoughts” about his early days working the door at Eddie Owens’ original place in Decatur; that he never intended to be a performer, but a therapist instead; his gratitude to Eddie for providing a venue (and encouragement) for his early work; and his predilection for the darker regions of human emotions in order to connect with listeners, to let them know they are not alone. He then went off mic and ended with a stirring cover of “Take It with Me When I Go” by Tom Waits. He returned for an encore of Emmylou Harris’ “The Pearl.”
Molly Parden (in addition to background vocals) opened with a strong solo set on guitar and vocals, pulling mainly from her 2011 Time Is Medicine album, along with “Kentucky, I” from the compilation album Native: Americana Spotlight, a few unreleased new songs, and a cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.”
Photo by Tom Garland.