Thomm Jutz may have taken an unlikely tack in his career, but it’s one that benefitted both him and his muse in any number of ways. Born in Germany, but a staunch devotee of Americana music, he built a career — and a reputation — on several fronts… as a guitarist, producer, performer and songwriter. He oversaw two albums with themes revolving around the American Civil War (The 1861 Project), took an equal role in a trio alongside fellow travelers Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, and carved out a catalog that sometimes circulates below the surface, but still remains as vibrant and vital as any in recent years.
Indeed, those whose projects he produced in the past — Nanci Griffith, David Olney, Steve Young, Otis Gibbs, Kim Richey, and Dana Cooper, among them — all attest to his prowess and proficiency. At the same time, he’s always eager to enlist other people for contributions to his own efforts. Likewise, he’s quick to credit those that influenced him early on — Bobby Bare (who made the initial impact on him when Jutz, age eleven, first saw him on a German TV show), Mark O’Connor, Jerry Douglas, Dan Fogelberg, Herb Petersen, Doc Watson, and Ricky Skaggs, many of whom eventually came to recognize Jutz for his craft, credence, and contributions.
Indeed, after Jutz’s move to Nashville in 2001, he quickly vaulted into that city’s upper musical echelon. His studio, TJ Tunes, helped elevate his status as one of Music City’s most in-demand producers. Likewise, his songs have been covered by any number of exceptional artists — John Prine, Nanci Griffith, Balsam Range, Kim Richey, and numerous others included. Yet, he still keeps up a steady stream of releases on his own and in the company of others. His string of kudos — four IBMA International Bluegrass Music Awards nominations, a pair of SESAC Nashville Music Awards and the two single on the Bluegrass Today Airplay Chart in 2016 — further affirm his exceptional status.
Whew… time to take a breath.
For all his accolades and accomplishments, Jutz’s latest album, Crazy If You Let It, finds him going back to basics. The sound is sown from a traditional template, and yet remarkably, all its songs are Jutz originals. If there was ever any question about his ability to mine vintage trappings in a contemporary context, the album proves how well Jutz has adapted a sound drawing from a wellspring of heartland influences. Tender ballads like Confederate Jasmine, The Coast of Carolina, and It Was You find equal footing with sprightly sing-alongs such as Crossing Over Black Mountain, White Water Train, and The Road to Galway, all of which sound like seminal standards in both effect and execution.
Jutz enlists solid studio support in the persons of Andrea Zonn (who adds her vocals to the sweet title tune), Sierra Hull, Tammy Rogers, Mark Fain, Justin Moses, and steadfast colleagues Brace and Cooper. Yet, it’s Jutz’s archival approach that makes this record ring with such sentiment and suggestion.
Suffice it to say, for anyone looking for an album that represents the essence and intent of modern grassicana, this particular offering serves as an ideal example of where its roots lie.
Consider Crazy If You Let It another excellent reminder of a tradition Jutz executes so adoitly.