Chris Jones wears many hats in the bluegrass world. Fans may recognize him from his weekly radio show, Truegrass, on Sirius/XM’s Bluegrass Junction, or from his humorous and insightful columns here at Bluegrass Today. However, he’s also quite a talented musician, as he shows yet again on the latest release from Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, Lonely Comes Easy.
Along with bandmates Jon Weisberger (bass), Neb Luberecki (banjo), and Mark Stoffel (mandolin) – accomplished musicians, songwriters, and more in their own right – Jones has put together an enjoyable, unique album that touches on both the traditional and modern sides of bluegrass music. This version of the Night Drivers has been together for the past five years, and it definitely shows in their tight instrumental work and nicely-selected material.
Several of the tunes on the album were sent to radio prior to the album’s August 27 release, with both sides of the first “single” finding a place on the Bluegrass Today chart. If That Was Love, which opens the album, is a cleverly-worded original from Jones and Weisberger with a cheerful sound that is in contrast to its tale of a relationship’s unhappy ending. Wolf Creek Pass, which also features some clever lyrics, is a fun take on an old C.W. McCall trucking song. While the verses are spoken, Sierra Hull and Claire Lynch provide the sweetly-sung choruses.
The most recent single from the album is the title track, which is currently making its way up the Bluegrass Today chart. Another Jones original, this is a nice, mandolin-guided slice of contemporary bluegrass. There are hints of the George Jones classic The Grand Tour in the lyrics, which finds the singer welcoming a guest to his home, “the final refuge of a wounded heart.”
Another top-notch number is You’re My Family Now, written by Jones, Weisberger, and Chris Stuart. The song has shades of both melancholy and hope, with its story of a couple being forced to start a new life far from their home. Too Hard to Say I’m Sorry is a country-influenced tune written by the late Cowboy Jack Clement, which fans of classic country may recognize from the late-1960s cut by Charley Pride. Jones captures the mournful tone of the song perfectly, and the fiddle from guest Jeremy Garrett is a nice touch as well.
Then I Close My Eyes has a bit of a more traditional bluegrass feel, in both its sound and lyrics. It’s a classic lonesome number, about a man who tries hard to pretend he’s moved on from an old love. A Few More Years (a traditional hymn gathered from the Stanley Brothers) has a similar feel, and smooth harmonies. The album’s other Gospel track, One Who’s Coming After Me, is one of the best cuts here, with a mid-tempo contemporary sound. It features John the Baptist as the narrator, telling of Jesus’ coming, and is set to a calm, uplifting melody.
There are also two impressive original instrumentals. The interestingly-named Swine Flu in Union County, written by Stoffel, is a dark, brooding mandolin piece which leans toward the progressive side of things. Luberecki contributed the fast-paced and appropriately-titled banjo tune Don’t Blink. Both he and Stoffel let loose on this number.
The Night Drivers are joined by several guests on this album. In addition to Hull, Lynch, and Garrett, the album features Ivan Rosenberg (resonator guitar), Buddy Greene (harmonica), and Emily Bankester (harmony vocals).
Although as a band, Chris Jones and the Night Drivers might not be as well known as some other equally talented bluegrass groups, they certainly shine on Lonely Comes Easy. Jones’s distinctive, smooth vocals fit well with the largely mid-tempo numbers on the album, and the songwriting and instrumentation are excellent.
For more information on Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, visit their website at www.chrisjonesgrass.com. Their new album can be purchased from several online retailers.