As the Bones of J.R. Jones, singer-songwriter Jonathan Linaberry follows the footsteps of traveling storytellers and musicians of old. They would often invent tall tales to be used as backstories — like Robert Johnson supposedly selling his soul to the devil in exchange for musical genius.
Linaberry’s fascination with this kind of folklore led to a character in the style of a mysterious drifter. With his swampy, finger-plucked guitar leads, weary voice and little else, Linaberry’s burn-barrel serenades aim to create a spark in hobo and bank manager alike.
A native of upstate New York, Linaberry says he was drawn into folk music gradually.
“I fell in love with it 15 years ago or so, and I think what I loved about it was the heart behind it,” he said via email. “Many of my favorite musicians were not great performers — always flat or off time — but none of that matters because of the raw emotion they were expressing through the recordings.”
In “Hearts Racing” from his album Dark Was the Yearling, set for release May 20, Linaberry cradles the fragile dream of escaping from daily life, wrapping it in a soft, fluffy melody.
“I suppose the song is an expression of how the city wears on me,” he said. “It wears me down. And my heart is elsewhere for the most part. The song is a simplified version of that feeling and wanting to take someone along with you for the ride.”
In adding backup vocals and a sharp, electric-guitar chop, “Hearts Racing” is one of the more modern-sounding songs Linaberry has written.
“I recognize that,” he admitted. “It was a bit of an issue for me at first, but its ‘modern’ sensibilities have grown on me. Also, the live, stripped-down version sounds a bit older than the fleshed-out studio one.
“That aside, I think the sentiment behind it is timeless, and it’s easy to relate to. Everyone is trying to escape from something. And a lot of my songs tie into that theme in some way. I guess what makes this song different is that the structure is more modern pop structure. It has an arc like most radio-friendly songs … that is something a little more unusual for me.”