Ticket Link: HERE
SLOW LIGHTNING- 10/13/2023
“There was no ‘a-ha’ moment,” says Jonathon Linaberry, “no life-changing revelation, no singular flash of inspiration. It was just a fierce, steady, undeniable energy, a force of nature I had to wrestle and wrangle with for years until I could harness it.”
It’s easy to understand, then, why Linaberry—better known as The Bones Of J.R. Jones—would call his mesmerizing new album Slow Lightning. As its title would suggest, the collection is raw and visceral, pulsating with an understated electrical current that flows just beneath its seemingly placid surface. The songs are restless and unsettled here, often grappling with doubt and desire in the face of nature and fate, and frequent collaborator Kiyoshi Matsuyama’s production is eerily hypnotic to match, with haunting synthesizers, vintage drum machines, and ghostly guitars fleshing out Linaberry’s already-cinematic brand of roots noir. The result is a moody, ominous work that’s equal parts Southern Gothic and transcendentalist meditation, an instinctual slice of piercing self-reflection that hints at everything from Bruce Springsteen and Bon Iver to James Murphy and J.J. Cale as it searches for meaning and purpose in a world without easy answers.
“I felt very lost at the time I was writing these songs,” Linaberry confesses. “It was a moment of deep crisis and anxiety, but I knew the only way out was through, which meant I just had to bring myself to the table every day and put in the work.”
Linaberry’s no stranger to putting in the work. Born and raised in central New York, he got his start playing in hardcore and punk bands before becoming enamored with the field recordings of Alan Lomax, who documented rural American blues, folk, and gospel musicians throughout the 1930s and ’40s. Inspired by the unvarnished honesty of those vintage performances, Linaberry launched The Bones of J.R. Jones in 2012 and, operating as a fully independent artist over the course of the ensuing decade, released three critically acclaimed albums along with a trio of similarly well received EPs; landed his songs in a slew of films and television series including Suits, Daredevil, Longmire, and Graceland; and toured the US and Europe countless times over as a one-man-band, playing guitar or banjo while simultaneously stomping a modified drum kit everywhere from Telluride Blues to Savannah Stopover. Along the way, Linaberry also shared bills with the likes of The Wallflowers, G. Love, and The Devil Makes Three, soundtracked an Amazon commercial helmed by Oscar-winning director Taika Waititi, and earned praise from Billboard, American Songwriter, and Under the Radar, among others.
After living in constant motion for the better part of ten years, though, Linaberry found himself at an unexpected standstill in 2021. At the time, he and his wife had recently relocated from Brooklyn to an old farmhouse in the Catskills, and the change of pace was both rewarding and challenging all at once.
“It’s a pretty remote, rural area we moved to,” Linabery explains, “the kind of place where spring is just a continuation of the cold, grey, muddy, brown of winter. I was exhausted by the seasons, working on songs nine hours a day in the attic, and it all felt very isolated and insular.”
Where the most recent Bones of J.R. Jones release, 2021’s A Celebration, drew inspiration from a trip into the vast, desert expanses of the American southwest, the songs that began taking shape in upstate New York this time around were more difficult to pin down, seeming to come and go of their own accord.
“That’s where the notion of ‘slow lightning’ was born,” Linaberry explains. “It’s about a power you can’t control, a force that’s bigger than you and follows its own path no matter how badly you want to mold or direct it. That’s what this record felt like, and it’s something I had to figure out how to embrace.”
That kind of all-consuming power is palpable from the start on Slow Lightning, which begins with the boisterous “Animals.” Gritty and insistent, the track taps into something primal and uninhibited, learning to trust its gut and make peace with aiming high and sometimes falling short. “Well my heart’s just trying to kill me,” Linaberry sings over roiling guitars and drums. “It always vibrates above / With always grand notions / But it plays in the mud.” Like so much of the album, it’s a testament to resilience, to letting go of failure and pressing on even when things feel hopeless. The bittersweet title track explores tenacity in the face of disenchantment, while the lo-fi “Blue Skies” insists on reaching for hope regardless of the cost, and “The Flood” conjures up a wistful portrait of survival and loss as it builds from a dreamy blur into a searing crescendo.
“I remember lying in bed in the dark hearing the coyotes laughing out in the field behind our house just before they killed something,” Linaberry recalls. “It was so haunting and eerie, but at the same time, you’re just so totally in awe of what’s happening right outside your window, this elemental moment of life and death all wrapped up together.”
Despite the looming sense of danger that permeates the album, Slow Lightning still manages to find moments of humor and levity. The darkly romantic “I’ll See You In Hell” revels in a love so strong it carries on through eternal damnation; the sardonic “I Ain’t Through With You” gets high on an addictively toxic relationship; and the relentlessly taut “Heaven Help Me” surrenders to overwhelming infatuation, with Linaberry recalling, “Love is the kind of thing that will keep you warm / That's what she said / As she was burning down my home.”
In the end, though, it’s perhaps the breezy “Salt Sour Sweet” that best encapsulates the spirit of the record, with Linaberry looking back on a lifetime of love and heartbreak, dreams and disappointment, success and failure, and ultimately recognizing that it’s the grand sum of them all that make us who we are. “It’s the salt sour and sweet / That holds,” he sings in an airy falsetto. Call it maturity, call it self-awareness; it’s the kind of wisdom that can only arrive on a bolt of Slow Lightning.