Music preview: CMU's Christopher Mark Jones has worldly background
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Christopher Mark Jones, who develops technology-enhanced language courses at Carnegie Mellon, arrived at the university nearly 20 years ago with quite a backstory.
The Oregon native, who grew up in Wisconsin, spent six years playing professional basketball in Portugal, before he landed in Paris to write songs and study Chinese at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations. From there he went to London, where he tried to launch a folk career during the punk wave with a debut album, "No More Range to Roam," produced by Bill Leader (Bert Jansch, John Renbourne) and featuring Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers.
Back in Boston in 1979, he formed The Regulars, which included Andre Locke of Mandrake and Reeves Gabrels, later of David Bowie's Tin Machine. With a wife, two sons and a Ph.D. in French literature, he ultimately landed at CMU, where he pursued his musical track with some friends in the bluesy Uptown Combo.
The songwriter, who sings in a rich voice that's just slightly rough around the edges, also launched his own personal folk-blues revival with 2010's "Heartland Variations" and now a homespun-sounding new album he's called "Suburban 2-Step."
"On this album, thematically, I've caught up to the suburbs, where I live now," he says. "Musically it has a bit of everything I've done, including some pretty bluesy stuff, but I keep it close to the ground and emphasize the acoustic roots. No pop ambitions."
The carefully crafted lyrics delve into small-town life ("Home at Last"), mature love ("High"), loneliness ("Mrs. Pennington"), travel ("Montreal Again," "Drivin' "), first-world problems ("Suburban 2-Step") and the larger society ("Numbers").
"Numbers," he says, is "a quirky little tune that counts people -- by ones, twos, thousands -- who mean something to me. I start with lovers, then family in the first two verses. By the time I get to "dozens on the corner/fifty on their feet/hundreds bright as shooting stars/thousands marching in the street," I have put myself in the middle of a karmic flow which is beyond my personal experience but still close to my heart."
Mr. Jones says he honed the songs playing Monday night Acousticafe at the Club Cafe and the Pittsburgh Songwriters' Circle at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, where he's found a lot of support.
"I've also gotten to know some musicians I love to work with and who seem to think it's worth the effort to get together for the odd gig and make something happen around my tunes," he says. "It's a constant process of discovery, and sometimes the results are amazing."
Of this new batch, he says, "These are songs I wouldn't have written as a UK folkie or a Boston funk-rocker. I've caught up to myself. We'll see what comes next."
First Published April 12, 2012 12:01 am