When Stone Jack Jones sings, “Joy’s a’comin’,” on his third album, Ancestor, he’s singing about the death of his mother-in-law. This is certainly not the most jubilant event imaginable, but as Jones sings it, it almost sounds like cause for celebration, if only because the deceased is off to collect her reward in the “milk-and-honey land.” By the song’s end, Jones is joined by a loose choir of friends and fellow mourners, who turn the outro into something like a wake. Rather than feeling dour and funereal, the moment finds a kernel of contentment in enormous loss.
Arriving eight years after 2006′s Bluefolk, Ancestor sharply refines the West Virginia-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s ambient Appalachia, emphasizing gentle melodies and lonely vocals over a rustic drone of banjos, guitars, organs, synths, floor creaks and even a bit of party chatter at the end of “State I’m In.” Jones recorded these songs piecemeal over the last decade, working with producer Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney) as well as old friend Patty Griffin and members of Lambchop. No purist, he uses folk music as a foundation for curious sonic experiments: The Psycho strings that stalk “Way Gone Wrong,” the psych-rock organ that crawls out of “Jackson.” The most poignant moment, however, may be the simplest and most unadorned: On closer “Petey’s Song,” Jones eulogizes a friend’s bulldog with only his voice and guitar: “You and me we are the best of show.”