If left only to the talents of producer/singer/songwriter/guitarist Thomm Jutz and Grammy and IBMA winning guitarist, writer, and vocalist Tim Stafford, Lost Voices would seem an auspicious enough effort. Yet given the additional contributions from Tammy Rogers on fiddle, go-to bassist Mark Fain, Ron Block on banjo, Shaun Richardson on mandolin, and a cameo from Dale Ann Bradley, (who takes the lead vocal on the lovely Callie Lou), it could be considered the equivalent of a superstar session.
Happily then, the album easily measures up to any expectations this exceptional ensemble clearly inspires. As the late Peter Cooper points out in the liner notes, “There is a noble mission to Lost Voices, and it is to reveal those voices as consequential and compelling beyond the grave, quintessentially human six feet in the ground.” Sadly, Cooper passed all too soon, making his own voice one that resonates here as well.
All original compositions, the songs — save the upbeat opening track, Take That Shot, and the mid-tempo rambles The Blue Grays, Vaudeville Blues, and No Witness in the Laurel but the Leaves (which finds Rogers fiddle taking center stage) — consist mainly of mournful narratives that retrace stories that stem from various aspects of American history, be it origination in the Great Plains or the Appalachian Mountains. Influenced and inspired by Tony Rice, Norman Blake, John Hartford, and Gordon Lightfoot, they sound more like traditional tunes than impeccable originals. Nevertheless, the reverence, eloquence and emotion clearly shine through.
Of course, it’s the subject matter itself that helps fuel the fascination. A semi-professional Negro League baseball team provides the inspiration for The Blue Grays. It’s an outlaw that finds focus in The Ballad of Kinnie Wagner. A fictional feud forms the basis of the aforementioned No Witness in the Laurel but the Leaves, while Callie Lou takes its cue from a Harriette Arrow novel. Vaudeville Blues is based on the life and career of Emmet Miller, a black-face minstrel whose music became a seminal influence for Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, and Merle Haggard, racist overtones aside. Code Talker offers a noble tribute to the Navajo code talkers who helped turned the tide of World War II.
Both moving and memorable, Lost Voices brings life to those whose stories might otherwise have been lost. Stafford and Jutz have, in fact, made a masterpiece.